The Zombie


July 2 -  So, as I mentioned last night, this weekend marks the one-hundredth anniversary of one of Prairie du Chien's many oddball institutions, Pete's Hamburgers!  Ever since Pete Gokey first made batches of hamburgers for a firefighter fundraiser (utilizing his secret ingredient; water), Pete's has been a Summer-and-Autumn weekend tradition.  Over the years, while time has marched forward, very little has changed for the hamburger stand.  In fact, I think that this "new" version of the stand (made a mere twenty years ago) is only the fourth to have dispensed burgers "with or without" onions on the hot streets downtown.  Beginning tomorrow, three days of Pete's-centric fun will reunite family and friends, celebrate local history, and bring together everyone alive who has been part of the Pete's story...and that includes me!  Several years ago (1999?), I drew the artwork for a new Pete's Hamburgers T-shirt.  It features people from several different eras, all enjoying Pete's burgers.  Below them is the phrase "WORTH WAITING IN LINE - SINCE 1909." 

Not too long after that, I was asked to create a postcard for the stand.  It features the double-line (people on both sides of the stand, but essentially in one line as the customers are served one at a time from alternating sides) mentioned on the T-shirt. 

It's crazy, I know, but whenever I drive by the busy stand, and I see my T-shirt swinging from a hanger in one corner, while my postcard seems to have come to life...well, I feel a weird pride that I can't explain.  That's why I said "Yes" when asked to draw caricatures for Pete's customers over the next three days.  That should be fun...and it may be even more fun on Saturday when all of the artists who have contributed artwork will be on-hand.  That includes my former high school Art teacher, Paul Porvaznik, and, as my Mom put it, "at least one Williams boy."  This honor (?) is doubly humbling for me since Pete Gokey himself was an artist and sign maker when he wasn't making burgers.  If you're in town over the weekend, treat yourself to a true Prairie du Chien tradition; stand in line, order a burger (in fact, get two), and remember to tell them whether you want yours "with or without."  Oh, and bring a little extra cash for a caricature.  I will be donating my profits to The Gokey Fund, established by Pete's descendants to raise money for cancer research.  Stop by, won't you?  The first burgers are ready at 11:00 each morning!  See ya there!  Oh, and here is another back-logged
Comic Book Father Character of The Day - George Jetson!

The Zombie

"Everyone you ever thought was cool died last week," and I'm still alive

July 1 -  Uh, yeah.  It's been a three months.  As you have no doubt guessed, things here at WOMP H.Q. have been...interesting?  Challenging? Bewildering?  Whatever the proper adjective, I'd like to add "...and boring."  In a nutshell, I was unable to post, but now I think I can.  It may not be daily (in fact, I'm virtually certain that it won't be), but I feel like I am back to as much as 90% of where I was before the "continued fun" happened to me, so I should have the energy to get back in the saddle, even if I fall out every now and then. 

So, what have I missed?  It's like the world has completely changed since I last sat down to write in the ol' WOMP-Blog.  For example, as the lovely WOMP-Staff put it, "Everyone you ever thought was cool died last week."  That's not exactly true, of course, but for someone my age (118), it felt like it.  Coming right during the week of the 25th anniversary of my graduation from high school, the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson seemed to re-enforce the obvious: I'm not young anymore.  I'm not even sure whether I count as youngish

But I used to be young, and if it wasn't exactly yesterday, it doesn't seem like more than two or three years ago.  During the last week in June of 1984, as I prepared to accept my diploma, how could I have foreseen the ironic impact that my actions would have a quarter-century later?  Virtually everything that happened back then now resonates with unexpected emotion and bittersweet nostalgia.  In no particular order, those last seven days in June of 1984 included...

...a "Meet The Artist" reception/performance for/by me!  I had the good fortune to be awarded a scholarship from the Bluff Country Arts Council, but it came with a string attached; I had to exhibit my art for the members of the council (and their invited guests).  Since I was being rewarded not just for my cartooning, but also for my sculpting, writing, singing, and acting ( singing and acting actually won me a scholarship), I had to showcase several different works, act in a short play (which I co-wrote and performed with Michael Haefer and Joe Shulka), and even sing.  Right then and there, as I learned that I was getting not just the expected honorarium, but everything from the Council's bank account because it was folding, I decided to find some way to pay my community back for their generosity.  Jump ahead to this last week in 2009, and I am on the Design Committee of Prairie du Chien Downtown Revitalization, helping plan our own "scholarship" of sorts (more on that in the days to come).

...sending my application and portfolio to The Joe Kubert School.  Since several of the portfolio pieces were on display at that reception thing, I was shipping them off at the last possible moment.  In fact, I nearly skipped it altogether.  After all, what were the chances that I'd be accepted anyway?  Jump ahead to this last week in 2009, and I have been making plans to teach my own cartooning and comic book classes on July 8th, 11th, and 18th (details to follow soon).

...singing in our last high school chorus performance.  Chorus, as a class, was one of the few (only?) places where my friends and I could actually hang-out together while at school.  Our final concert, then, was symbolic of the ending of our school days.  We (Mike Haefer, Joe Shulka, Joe Becwar, and I) sang as a barbershop quartet, as part of the larger ensemble, and as featured performers in our  - and I swear this is true - tribute to Michael Jackson!  We sang a medley of Jackson's hits, including a memorable version of Beat It....where I portrayed The King of Pop himself!  It all sounds much cooler than it was, especially because my "impersonation" consisted of nothing more than donning a black fedora and a single white glove.  I gave it as much attitude as I could (remember, I did get a scholarship for my singing and acting), but I was still an awkward six-foot-four white kid from Wisconsin...with a hat and a glove.  Jump ahead to this last week in 2009, and, well, my odd connection to Michael Jackson has forced me to once again face my own mortality. the Class Night before Graduation Day, unexpectedly receiving "Hall of Fame" awards in both Art and English.  Seriously, I did not expect that.  I egotistically thought that I might be in the running for the Art award, but to be named the top graduating student of all English courses?  That really shocked me.  These awards, given every year from about 1920 to about 2000 (when they mysteriously ceased), were chosen by the teachers of each subject category.  Since our school had only one Art teacher, Mr. Porvaznik, I had a feeling that I was in the running for an Art award based solely on his actions in those last few days of school.  The English award, though?  The entire English Department had to vote on that one.  It still shocks me today...speaking of which, jumping ahead to this last week in 2009, I found myself dealing with many of those former teachers.  My dreaded "real" job often puts me in contact with people I haven't seen for years, which, this last week, included two English teachers, a Geometry teacher, and Mr. Porvaznik.  In fact, he and I will be together again this coming weekend as Pete's Hamburgers celebrates their 100th anniversary (more on that later)! 

...receiving my diploma.  Finally.  And, even today, as I almost daily drive past my high school alma mater, I still think to myself "I am so glad that I don't have to go back there."  Oh, don't get me wrong.  I have many pleasant memories of those days.  Some may even have been the cliched "best days of my life," but, over all, I did not enjoy attending high school.  Jump ahead to this last week in 2009, where plans may very well be underway for a 25-year class reunion, and I couldn't care less.  I know that sounds snarky (or maybe even false, since I am talking about it right now), but it's just how I feel.  And why wouldn't I?  My closest friends have either kept in touch or died, I've seen most other classmates in the same way I've seen past teachers at my dull "real" job, and there have been no substantive changes in my life recently (that I'd care to share). 

That pretty much brings me back to right now.  I have had a few interesting things happen while AWOL from the WOMP-Blog, but I'm not going to over-reach tonight by trying to tell you everything all at once.  No, for now I am happy to just get back on my horse, even at a trot.  So, look for more posts as my recuperation transitions into rehabilitation (or words to that effect).  For now, for no particular reason other than satisfying my own dementia, let me leave you with what should have been April 4th's Comic Book Father Character of The Day - Herman Munster!

WOMP-Blog Archives Exclusive - OK, just to reward you for checking in on me (thank you, by the way), I present photographic evidence of my performance as Michael Jackson!  It's not the best picture, and it's clearly not an action shot, but - sigh - that is indeed me with the black hat, striped shirt, and single white glove.  Ugh.  Gotta love the Eighties, I guess.  Ok, now....BEAT IT!

The Zombie

Father's (Last) Day

April 3 -  Well, today was my Dad's last day at work.  As of 3:00PM, Kelly Mundt has officially retired.  Dad was something of a Doogie Howser, having graduated from medical college at eighteen years old.  He was a double-threat, proficient in both the diagnostic medical laboratory and the (then still) new use of X-Ray machinery. 

(Believe it or not, that's Dad after college, at his first job, in 1963)

As such, just a few years later, he became the head of both the Laboratory and X-Ray Departments here in my hometown of Prairie du Chien...when he was just 24.  And there he stayed, day in, day out, until 3:00 today.  Oh, the names of the departments have changed a bit (now jointly called Diagnostic Services), and the equipment has changed immeasurably (CAT, MRI, digital...heck, they don't even use X-Ray film anymore), but my Dad has been in charge of all of it for over forty years.  On his way out the door, he stopped at the reception desk and asked to use the hospital's public address system, upon which he announced
"Kelly Mundt has left the building.  Kelly Mundt has left the building."  With that, flanked by the sound of applause coming from every corner of the hospital, he walked out to begin his well-deserved third chapter.  In his honor, I've decided to get a jump start on June's traditional celebration of paternity with an entire month dedicated to fathers in comic books!  Believe it or not, this has been an actual topic of geeky conversation several times during my years as a fanboy/cartoonist wannabe.  Ever since Joseph Campbell told us about the guy with 1,000 faces, the relationship between comic book characters and their fathers has been the subject of great debate and conjecture.  Even my own comic, The Adventures of Monkey, isn't immune to discussion of it's (my?) many "daddy issues."  So, let's jump right in with one of the most prevalent "daddy issues" in comics, the absentee father.  Long before it was a popular topic on Tyra, comic books have been dealing with the subject of "men who leave."  It's as if there is some rule that a character, male or female (but especially male) isn't really a "grown-up" until Dad is gone.  An incredible array of characters lost their pops to the Grim Reaper before beginning their "adventures."  Poor Superman had to lose two.  In the past, I've argued that this "absence of a father" element was a reflection on the kind of creators and, ultimately, readers that are drawn to the comic book medium.  Now?  I'm not so sure.  I think that such stories as Superman's are just in keeping with the world's mythology, which has inspired many comics creators for decades.  Some of that is because of the sense of "passing of the torch" that a father character's death elicits.  As Uther had to die so that Arthur could rule Britain, so we feel that Thomas Wayne had to die so that Batman could rule the night.  There is not only torch-passing involved, but a somber empowerment, as in "I'm the man of the house now."  In some ways, this is pretty much what happened to my Dad's father, my Grandpa Les Mundt.  At the age of twelve, his Dad (Great-Grandpa Henry) died.  Grandpa's two older brothers were already off to barber college, so, with his Mom and a handful of sisters to support, little Les took over running the family farm.  He "retired" sixty years later when he died at the age of seventy-two.  Of course, not every absentee father character actually died.  An off-shoot of the theme is the mysterious-disappearance, dramatic-later-reappearance father.  This is an especially evil plot device, as it first tortures a character through childhood, then revisits that pain after a couple of decades of healing have passed.  Curiously, none of this applies (at least not broadly) to mother characters.  Weird.  Well, let's pick this up again tomorrow.  I've got my Dad's retirement party to set up early in the morning.  Until next time, here are your first few Comic Book Father Characters of The Day -
Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, Jor-El, and Pietro "Quicksilver" Maximoff!

The Zombie

No More Fun Comics

March 31 -  So, what's left to say about More Fun Comics?  I suppose that I haven't really talked about the superheroes that it spawned.  Some became minor stars (like The Spectre), others were also-rans (Johnny Quick), and several others became odd footnotes (Dr. Occult).  Even though they had some successes back in the day, it was never "Superman-success."  Probably the biggest super-star to first see print in MFC was Aquaman.  Originally just another back-up feature character, it took him decades to gain "Justice League level" status.  That seems to be the general legacy of all super-powered characters from More Fun Comics.  None of them took the world by storm, and I think I know why; they never had the advantage of a book-length story.  Every appearance was limited to a handful of plot-intensive, action-filled pages.  While the more obvious detriment to such a publishing history is that readers never had more than a few panels to get to know these characters, the secret of their non-success may actually have been the lack of memorable auxiliary characters.  Name one character from The Spectre's comics mythology other than himself (or his alter ego).  If you are a comics historian, you could probably do it, but chances are that you're drawing a blank.  Now name Superman's mom(s), girlfriend(s), and boss(es).  Even my Mom, wife, and boss could do that.  A well-developed supporting cast seems to have a big impact on the success of a lead character, for any number of reasons.  In eight-or-so-page stories like those in More Fun, everything had to be more streamlined, so the cast was limited too.  It's just a theory.  Sigh.  I'd still love to see a return of big anthology comics someday.  There is just something so satisfying about having so many stories in one publication.  Well, let's wrap this month up with your last More Fun Comics Character of The Day - Dr. Fate!

(Dr. Fate's second appearance, and first cover --- image
is again courtesy of the
Grand Comic Book Database
The Zombie

Too Cool For School?

March 30 -  It turns out that I'm cool.  At least that's what a fourth grader told me recently.  I've never really felt like I was cool, but at least someone thinks I am.  In fact, I seem to have been a hit with lots of people this last long as those people were between the ages of six and twelve.  I apologize for my lax blogging over these last few weeks, but I've been busy entertaining kids all over town.  Some we were "babysitting" (or whatever word you'd use when the kids are around ten years old....preteensitting?  Hmm...that doesn't sound right), but most were the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Graders of Bluff View Intermediate School.  The school is just a few blocks away from WOMP Headquarters, so it was no big deal for me to just drop by to talk about comics and cartooning (and you know that I love talking about myself, as is evidenced by the example of this WOMP-Blog). 

Not only was that was a lot of fun, but I really feel that I was able to tell every group (several hundred over the course of two days) some very important, interesting things.  I knew it was going well (based purely on the excited shrieks solicited by my drawings of blob monsters and super-ducks), but I was pleasantly surprised at the great, pertinent questions the kids asked.  It was pretty obvious that many of these students were truly cartoonists in the making.  To me, that made the whole thing worthwhile.  Oh, if only some cartoonist had told kid-me even
half the stuff I told those kids (all of which, by the way, someone else told me in later years).  Sigh.  Anyhoo, time has passed, and I had only my impression of the day to gauge whether I'd had any impact.  Imagine my surprise, then, when a package from the school was delivered to WOMP Central.  Within it, wrapped in three signed "thank you" cards (one from each grade), were literally hundreds of cartoons drawn by the students! 

(I tried to take a photo of the "thank you" drawings, but my
"assistant" insisted on "helping," so this is my best pic)

Awesome!  Better still, upon review I could see that the vast majority of them had implemented one or more of my tips from my "lectures."  And, yes, I looked at every single one.  Most were actual comic strips, some of which were quite good or funny (all of which were very interesting).  Now, I'm not deluded enough to think that any of these kids will necessarily go on to have cartooning careers someday, but I've always felt that cartooning comics can open up imaginations, can improve communication skills, can comfort in troubled times, and can be a lifelong friend, so I feel like I've really made a difference in their lives.  And, you know what?  That makes me feel pretty cool. 

(This cartoon - by mono-named Elise - features the skinniest depiction of me that I've ever seen, so I had to show it to you.  It
also has an ironic spelling mistake.  Skinny-me is saying "I am drawing a Money."  Hmm.  More truth in that than I'd like to admit)

OK, now let me talk about More Fun Comics again.  Just a little.  One of the things which most interests me about the series is that it was so malleable.  Unlike, say, the Batman comic, More Fun could, and did, feature whatever kind of story the editors thought would sell comics.  In that way, it was not just a laboratory for the comics medium, it was something like the pulse of the industry.  Well, maybe it was more like the pulse of the editorial strength of the industry.  I mean, it was canceled due to poor sales, so it wasn't a pure barometer.  Still, it fascinates me that More Fun was, using television as a metaphor, more of a TV network than a TV show.  In a young, foundling industry, I suppose that made sense.  While it may seem strange to put silly cartoony stories in the same comic as serious murder mysteries, the publisher and editors had little choice but to put all of their eggs in the only basket they had.  If any of them hatched, then they were moved around to other titles or even into their own.  Today, anthology comics (what few there are) are seen as the weaker, less impactful poor cousins of "regular" comics.  Even at that, today's anthologies are more thematic.  Every story within a title has some element in common.  The last successful anthology was probably Dark Horse Presents, which, in many ways, was very similar to it's More Fun Comics ancestor.  As More Fun gave us some of the most beloved characters of the Golden Age, DHP introduced new characters (like Paul Chadwick's Concrete) and new stories (like Aliens vs. Predator) which have dominated the industry in more recent years (Frank Miller's Sin City being arguably the most famous).  Unlike More Fun, however, DHP focused more on quality rather than quantity.  I'm not saying that there weren't great artists at work in the pages of More Fun, but here are the features of a typical table of contents from issue #25;

(Cover pic courtesy of the Grand Comic Database)

- Sandra Of The Secret Service
- Johnnie Law
- Sam the Porter
- Jack Woods
- Dr. Occult
- The Magic Crystal of History
- Spike Spalding
- Ivanhoe
- Hanko The Cowhand
- The Brady Boys
- Pirate Gold
- Just Suppose
- Pep Morgan
- Barry O'Neill
- Bob Merritt
- Brad Hardy
- Wing Brady
- Mark Marson of the Interplanetary Police
- Jest Jokes
- The Three Musketeers
- Woozy Watts
- Marty McCann, Champion of the Navy
- Little Linda
- Radio Squad

All of this in just sixty-eight pages...and for just 10 cents!  Whew!  Wow, how times have changed!  I don't think that I'm specifically nostalgic for those days (especially since my
parents hadn't even been born at the time), but I'd love to see something like More Fun Comics produced today.  Heck, we already have Free Comic Book Day (coming up on May 2nd this year), so maybe DC could have a More Fun Comics Day, where they could repurpose the venerable old title as a promotional introduction to the year's upcoming projects, selling it for a dime.  Hmm.  It's a thought.  I'll be back tomorrow (I promise!!!) to wrap this month up, so I guess I'll just leave you with all but the last of your remaining More Fun Comics Characters of The Day - Jimminy Crockett, Sandy Keane of The Radio Squad, Doctor Occult, Biff Bronson, Superboy, The Masked Ranger, Pedro, Green Arrow, Speedy, King Carter, Bulldog Martin, The Spectre, Sgt. O'Malley, Detective Sgt. Carey, Wing Brady, Lieutenant Bob Neal, Lance Larkin, Clip Carson, Larry Trent of The Radio Squad, Dover, and Clover!

The Zombie

Comics and Consequential Art

March 9 -  Whoops!  I guess I let the remainder of Will Eisner Week slip by without an update here in the ol' WOMP-Blog.  That was mostly an oversight since much of the entry below was completed back on last Wednesday night/Thursday morning.  I just never had the time to post it.  Oh, well.  Let's get back to it...

Man, I love a good police drama.  I grew up during what has to be considered the Golden Age of TV cops.  The proliferation of detective programs during that period, from about 1970 to around 1980, really hasn't been matched since.  It may not be what most kids were into, but my Dad and I were devoted followers of everything from Kojak and Baretta to The Streets of San Francisco and Hawaii Five-O.  Oh, and The Mod Squad, Ironside, Quincy M.E., Columbo, Banacek, McCloud, Cannon, and - of course - our favorite, The Rockford Files (just to name a few).  As we'd watch each show, we would compete with each other to see which of us could solve the case first.  Dad always won, but only because I always wanted there to be some sort of "aliens," "ghost," or other sci-fi angle, whereas he was both smart enough to decipher the actual clues and he understood TV-writing formulas (for example, the Murder She Wrote murderer is always the most famous guest star who is not the accused, or, expressed as an actual formula, M=MFGS-A).  Sigh.  Those days are gone now, but, thanks to the new cop/science fiction series Life on Mars, which is set in 1973 (or a coma-induced version of 1973 at least), I can not only revisit the era of my youth, but finally can enjoy the weirdo elements that I'd always wished for back then!  Even so, I'm sure my Dad solves the cases before I do.  That all reminds me of Will Eisner's The Spirit, which, when it comes right down to it, was a police drama.  Often overlooked in scholarly examinations of Mr. Eisner's work is his ability to craft a compelling mystery.  This may be related to the first countdown feature of the night...

Seven Ways That
Changed My Life!

Number Four - Will Eisner made me think ahead about what I draw!  It seems like a no-brainer.  If you are going to draw something, you should think about it first, right?  Even so, for years I drew as I had since childhood; without any planning other than remembering to assemble pencils and paper, I'd start drawing "something," then slowly fill the remaining page(s) with whatever else I'd think of.  I drew my earliest comic books that way.  I'd draw a cover, then the first panel, then the second, and so on.  That may explain why so many of those comics have no ending.  Later, when I saw how carefully designed Mr. Eisner's extremely tight little Spirit stories were, I knew I had to change my established "process."  In just a tiny number of pages, he could show - ugh - just so much; satire, mood, the passage of time, character development, humor, drama, philosophy, innuendo, adventure, and an actual story (with not only a beginning, middle, and end, but also a point).  It was pretty obvious that he didn't "just draw" such a comic.  He crafted it.  Wherever I would always just wing it, hoping to find something good when I was done, Mr. Eisner clearly polished his stories, reworking each several times before they went to print.  Since discovering this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about my comics work (which has been few and far between...but at least I thought about it) before drawing it.  I now have file after file of production designs, story notes, layout ideas, and stories (each with not only a beginning, middle, and end, but also a point).  While the quality of these stories is questionable, no-one can deny the amount of thinking ahead that I do to create them.  Far from burdening the process, this adds so much more enjoyment and satisfaction to my work (just like his challenge to never do the same thing twice).  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

That brings me to...

Number Three - Will Eisner revealed to me that comic books are all about storytelling!  OK, I'll admit it.  I used to think of comics as not much more than booklets filled with nifty drawings.  Oh, I understood that they were written by someone, but most stories of my youth seemed to be pretty formulaic.  Those that weren't?  I couldn't figure out what made a comic book better than another.  Even more curiously, some of my favorite comics featured artwork that wasn't as "cool" as what was in some of my least favorite comics.  In fact, when I really first saw Will Eisner's The Spirit artwork in advertisements, I was less than impressed.  I guess that his style was too old-fashioned for a kid more accustomed to Neal Adams and Gil Kane.  It was only later, when I actually read three The Spirit stories in A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, that it all finally clicked.  A comic book is a storytelling medium.  Everything, from script to layout to character designs to lettering size to inking style to whatever, should contribute to telling a story.  If some element doesn't do that, it shouldn't be there.  And those comics with "so-so" art that I enjoyed nonetheless?  Upon review, they were streamlined to tell the story at hand.  No muss, no fuss, just enough for us. This hit me like a revelation...a revolution...a resolution; from then on, for me, comic books are all about storytelling.  This has enriched my comics reading, understanding, and creating.  Thanks. Mr. Eisner!

Speaking of understanding...

Number Two - Will Eisner legitimized comic books in the eyes of my family!  I've been dancing around the subject of the most powerful of Mr. Eisner's works, at least in regards to its impact on my life.  I'm talking, of course, of Comics and Sequential Art (subtitled The Understanding and Practice of The World's Most Popular Art Form).  Published about the same time I left The Kubert School, this book became my textbook for furthering my comics education on my own (sidenote; at least during my time at the JKS, there were no textbooks, nor even a library).  It is the first book to dissect the art of comics in a serious, studious way.  It has been indispensable to me over the years, but, honestly, by the time I got my hands on a copy (1987?), it served mostly to clearly and carefully voice concepts which I had already come to understand in some form (at least a little) by schooling, private study, reading, and/or doing.  No, the greatest impact the book had on my life was as an introduction to "my world" for my parents.  After reading my copy, I loaned it to my Mom and Dad.  It's all well and good to have a passion for something, but how do you explain that passion to people who have absolutely no frame of reference?  Comics and Sequential Art showed my folks exactly what I'd been trying to tell them for years.  While they had always been supportive, they were each very impressed with the book, which not only legitimized comic books in their eyes, but my pursuit of a comics career as well.  Strangely, the story doesn't end there.  Nearly twenty years later, in 2005, I felt like I was in a creative quandary, and I was looking for some direction.  Some of you long-time WOMP-Blog readers may remember this episode.  After years of fantasizing about communicating with Mr. Eisner, I finally decided to place my future in his hands.  I gathered my crappy comics, began a letter begging for advice, and prepared to accept his judgement.  Before I went any further, because of the potential that this act would change the course of our lives, I felt that I had to explain to my lovely wife (The WOMP Staff) just who this Eisner guy was, and why his "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" meant so much.  What better way than to show her my dog-eared copy of Comics and Sequential Art?  Like my parents before her, she gained a real appreciation for what Will Eisner did, and an understanding of why his opinion would mean so much to me.  Unfortunately, Mr. Eisner died three days later.  I'd missed my chance for a direct conversation about comic books with one of my heroes, but, upon reflection, I realized that he'd already spoken to my family on the subject, and that was worth all the advice in the world.  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

That brings us to...

Number One - Will Eisner has inspired my entire "career"  It's probably pretty obvious by now that I think very highly of Mr. Eisner and his work.  He has been a serious influence on me since I was in the seventh grade, and I consider his comics and graphic novels to be among the best ever produced.  But, as for inspiring my attempts to have a career in comics?  That's more difficult to explain.  I suppose that it has a lot to do with Mr. Eisner's impressive talents for "sequential art" as his chosen medium.  Most cartoonists are, were, or at least seemed to be frustrated artists who'd rather have been creating "real" art, but were forced to belittle themselves with comics work.  And, even though Mr. Eisner himself seems to have felt that way quite often, it's pretty obvious now that he was meant to create comics.  Whether innate or learned, his ability as a master comic book artist has become legend, and was/is, no doubt, one of the main reasons why Mr. Eisner's work has inspired me for decades.  But...but there is something else there....something that keeps me going, even when everything around me is desperately trying to tell me to stop.  What is it?  Well, when I read an Eisner work, especially his later graphic novels, I'm always, always swept up in his genius.  I have often blathered about his fellow master-storyteller Frank Miller (who had an equally important influence on me), but where Mr. Miller sees the darkness, Mr. Eisner illuminates it.  He doesn't dismiss it.  Both artistically and thematically, Will Eisner never shied away from the dark areas.  In those graphic novels, there was seldom (if ever?) a "happy ending," but the focus was less on the character's specific vignette than it was on his or her humanity.  I think that his artistic world-view, which imbued his drawings with a sense of real life - warts and all - may be the biggest reason why Will Eisner has influenced my entire "career," and, of course, my life.  I like to think that I'm a better artist because of The Spirit and Comics and Sequential Art, but I know that I'm a better person because of A Contract With God and A Life Force.  For that, and for every other way that he changed my life, I am eternally grateful.  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

So, I have no fun little game for you tonight, but I can leave you with a few more (backlogged) More Fun Comics Characters of The Day - Johnny Quick, Captain Desmo, Henri Duval, Superman, Johnny "Genius" Jones, and Aquaman!

The Zombie

Never Do The Same Thing Twice (*)

March 3 -  Will Eisner Week is going strong, but I haven't heard anything about it in the "real" press yet.  That's OK, I suppose.  He's sort of "our" guy.  Trying to explain to "outsiders" just who Mr. Eisner was, or what made him so great that we need an entire week devoted to his legacy, is like trying to explain a symphony to the deaf.  I mean, he didn't create Batman or Superman or anything.  In fact, other than a tribute piece or two that he produced later in life, I don't think that he had any significant, direct involvement in "mainstream" comics since the 1940's.  I once tried to describe him as the "Ben Franklin of comic books;" he was an indispensable figure from the very beginning, guiding it all with his immeasurable strengths and unmatched talents, but he was never the "President."  Just like Dr. Franklin, we all owe Mr. Eisner so much for what he did for us (especially we comics folk).  That brings us naturally to the next part of my countdown of... 

Seven Ways That
Changed My Life!

Number Five - Will Eisner challenged me to never do the same thing twice (*)!  When I first decided to really pursue a comics career, I began to look at the actual work of creating a comic book.  This is back in the days before home computers and long before the Interwebs, so I studied by purchased and library-loaned books, mostly.  Many of these were collected volumes of old comics.  One of the first, most obvious differences between mainstream comic book collections and those of Mr. Eisner's classic The Spirit was that The Spirit had no actual logo.  Everyone knows the iconic Superman logo because the same one was used over and over again (thanks to photostats), but for it's entire ten year run, Will Eisner redrew - re-imagined, really - The Spirit's logo every single time it was used...and this was for a weekly comic! 

(Just look at these five issues of The Spirit, each with completely different logos...all from December of 1940!)

Of course, if one looks just a little deeper, this compulsion for constant invention and reinvention permeates not just the logo, but every page of
The Spirit, and everything Mr. Eisner did after that.  He was literally still drawing comics up until the day he died, and none of what he did - NONE OF NEARLY SEVENTY YEARS' WORTH OF DAILY COMICS WORK - ever repeated (* except, of course, when that repetition was an important element of the story, such as in a "wallpaper gag" or other such replicating pattern that was necessary for storytelling).  Now, while I'll cop to reluctantly using photocopies of logos, I otherwise strive to never repeat anything.  Taking my cue from Will Eisner, I'm challenged to always, always find new and different ways to...well, to do pretty much anything that I do, now that I think of it.  While Mr. Eisner's "never-do-the-same-thing-twice challenge" originally only affected how I wrote and drew comic books, it has now infected
nearly every aspect of my life (at least in regards to those things which are creative endeavors).  Today, while it sometimes means that I've made my work a little bit more difficult, it also ultimately makes that work so much more meaningful to me.  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now some more fun!  More Fun Comics was an anthology book, featuring dozens of characters in little eight, four, or even two page stories.  Because of this, no one character was ever the "star," but a few dominated the covers.  Until issue number 52 (a weird coincidence, in light of DC's series 52, but I digress), the cover illustrations feature fairly generic humor or adventure scenarios.  Images of kids getting into preposterous trouble, swashbucklers sword-fighting on castle walls, and holiday themed scenes were forever interrupted by the grim visage of a hooded ghost rising menacingly above a gang of racketeers.  Above the logo, a bold announcement ushered in a new era of "more fun."  It read...

Starting this issue: the daring exploits of THE SPECTRE!

(This, and the Spirit covers, courtesy of The Grand Comic Book Database)

For the following five years, as World War Two raged, superheroes dominated the covers, even as all sorts of stories were still being printed inside.  In honor of these oddball spirits of vengeance, masters of mystic arts, scarlet speedsters, and heroic marksmen, I have another game for you tonight!  Below, I will post the names of a handful of strange, completely new superheroes (or supervillains?).  Pick one (or a couple, even), then reply to this entry (via
the WOMP-Blog Archives on LiveJournal
) with your ideas of what their powers are, their origin stories, or whatever else you'd like.  Be serious if it strikes you to be so, or be silly.  Either way, just have fun with it!  So, here are your candidates...

A) The Harvester
B) Gateway
C) Yaro The Invincible
D) The Clubber
E) Acropolis
F) The Tork
G) Phantom of The World Cup
H) The Fearless Cutlass
I) Gandhiman
J) The Tinsmith
K) Motion Master
L) Farmer's Daughter
M) Captain Bronto
N) Axcess
O) Mason Dixon
P) Flowerchild
Q) Skyboxer
R) Ronald Raygun
S) Sigfriedenstein
T) Mister Child
U) The Blue Ribbon
V) Originman
W) W3-X7
X) The Bounder
Y) Doctor Pentagram
Z) Baby Boomer

There has to be at least one of those that strikes your creative eye.  Go on, pick one out, and write up a little something.  Who knows, maybe it will be the next big character!  Here, then, is your More Fun Comics Character of The Day - Congo Bill!

The Zombie


March 2 -  Hey there!  Back for more?  Let's start, then, with the next "thrilling" installment of my countdown of...

Seven Ways That
Changed My Life!

Number Six - Will Eisner ruined my handwriting!  Well, "ruined" may be too strong a word.  You see, before I'd ever seen any of Mr. Eisner's work, I was dutifully keeping notes, writing letters, and submitting reports in a decent cursive handwriting.  By the fourth grade, my overly-curly "John Mundt" was more like "John Hancock."  By the time I'd added "Esquire?"  Forgetaboutit.  Then I had a seventh grade Biology teacher who required that every student carefully print everything produced for his class.  That was quite a challenge.  I did my best, I really did, but my printing was so illegible that it actually angered my teacher.  If any of you have seen my current signature - which is directly descended from one I developed during those days - then you have a rough idea of how awful my printing was.  Even so, I have never gone back to "longhand" handwriting.  I struggled through the next few years as I looked for my "print-voice," but then I saw Will Eisner's larger-than-life signature on the cover of one of the earliest Spirit collections. 

It was composed of a tweaked traditional comics font, brush strokes, and a handful of specific quirks.  I was especially fond of the way that some lowercase letters stood in for their uppercase counterparts.  As a Freshman in high school, I created my alter ego/nom de plume John Woe, and, in homage, developed a separate Woe signature that closely resembled Mr. Eisner's.  Little by little, John Woe's hand-printing became
handwriting.  By the time I was in college, I was angering a whole new set of teachers with it (sorry, Hy).  Again, I really tried to clean up my act, but I just could not shake my Eisner influences (again; sorry, Hy).  After college, I had taken to heart many of my Lettering Class lessons, but I decided to stop denying my Eisner-Woe handwriting...especially the little circles used to dot any lowercase "i" in the middle of an otherwise all-capitalized word.  Ruined forever by Mr. Eisner's iconic autograph, I'm now left with my own quirky, printed, weirdo handwriting.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now some more fun!  Tonight, I begin what I hope will be an  I don't know what to call it, other than nerdy, wordy, weirdy, comic booky fun.  Here's how it will work.  Below, I'll post the name of a comic book character.  Reply to this entry (via the WOMP-Blog Archives on LiveJournal) with the name of another, always different character's name that begins with the last letter of the previous character's name, and we'll see how long we can go before either accidentally repeating or everyone just gets bored with it.  Got it?  OK, let's start with a few, just to get the ball rolling;

1) Mister Mxyzptlk
2) Krypto
3) Omega The Unknown

So, hop to it!  Number your entry so that people can follow along.  Here is your More Fun Comics Character of The Day - Percival Popp!

The Zombie

Happy Will Eisner Week!

March 1 -  OK, so I had a little break there, didn't I?  Essentially, I posted nothing in the ol' WOMP-Blog for the entire month of February (other than a days-late entry for "January 31st").  Why?  Well, it started with health problems.  Yes, I was sick again...SURPRISE!  Then, as I got better, I got busy (both of which are good things, of course).  I've had many art commissions, many art-related meetings, two days spent at Bluff View Intermediate School talking about cartooning, a heavy "real" work schedule, and many days spent helping O.F.O.WOMP William Waite move back to Prairie du Chien.  Around February 26th I did find myself with the time and energy to post something, but I decided that February was a total loss, blogging-wise, so I held off until now.  So, let's get to it!

First, let me welcome you to Day One of Will Eisner Week! 

(photo borrowed directly from the Will Eisner web-site)

Yep, this first week of March marks the 92nd anniversary of Eisner's birth, and, to celebrate this pioneering comic book artist, several comics-related organizations and schools have created this event (read more about it HERE and HERE).  In that spirit, over the next few days I want to count-down for you...

Seven Ways That
Changed My Life!

Number Seven - Will Eisner helped me get into the Joe Kubert School!  Of course, I never actually met Mr. Eisner, and he didn't literally facilitate my acceptance into Big Joe's House of Kubert, but my appreciation of the artist/creator of The Spirit did!  Before a final decision about enrolling me in his school, Mr. Kubert called my home to interview me.  That was a thrill (one which I actually recorded...for posterity?).  For about two hours, I had a personal conversation with one of the greatest comics artists of all time...and the main topic was me.  We discussed my career goals, my horrible portfolio, and my influences.  I talked about Jack Kirby, Don Newton, Steve Ditko, Frank Miller, and, mostly, Will Eisner.  At the time, I had no idea that Mr. Eisner was more-or-less Mr. Kubert's collegiate competition, having taught cartooning at New York's School of Visual Arts.  Oops.  I went on and on about how much I admired and hoped to emulate Mr. Eisner's innovative layouts and storytelling.  Yes, I enthusiastically  - naively - proceeded to tell Joe Kubert how awesome Will Eisner was...and I never, not even once, talked about how much Mr. Kubert had influenced me (which he had, just not as much).  When I finally came up for air, there was a brief pause on the other end of the line, then Mr. Kubert said something like "You're right, John.  And you said the magic word; storytelling."  Joe proceeded to briefly tell me about how much Will Eisner had helped and influenced him in his career, pretty much from the start.  Far from holding against me my adoration of Mr. Eisner, Joe said that my interests and influences were the reasons why he stamped my application "ACCEPTED."  So, in a very real way, not only did Will Eisner help me get into the Joe Kubert School, but he was instrumental in inspiring the school itself!  Thanks, Mr. Eisner!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now, it's time to get back on track with my "...Of The Day" feature, and I think it's time for more fun.  In fact, I think it's time for More Fun Comics, perhaps the quintessential Golden Age comic book title.  Published first as just New Fun in 1935, then, after the name change, from 1936 to 1947, this groundbreaking book was DC's first and longest running series, due in part to the continual metamorphoses it went through, mirroring the changes in comics during those years.  Starting out as a collection of humor comics, MFC eventually encompassed every type of story, including historical fiction, detective mysteries, illustrated classics, rollicking adventure, imaginative fables, patriotic pabulum, and superheroes....lots of superheroes.  More Fun Comics was also a laboratory for the comics medium.  It's where Siegel and Shuster tried out their first superheroic character, Doctor Occult (who, in the pages of MFC, morphed from a fedora-and-trenchcoat paranormal investigator to a be-caped adventurer who was very similar to his decades-later descendent, Marvel's Doctor Strange).  Even the very format of what a comic book "is" was changed and solidified over the course of its run.  To commemorate this pioneering comic, I'll post a different seminal More Fun Comics character's name each night as part of my "...Of The Day" feature.  I am also planning to honor the spirit of the title by devoting the entire month to FUN!  And just how do I propose to do that?  Well, knowing a bit about who reads this ol' WOMP-Blog, it will be nerdy, wordy fun.  Here's the basic premise; I want to hear from you, starting tonight with your thoughts on...

Pitch It To Me #1; The International Association of Investigating Adventurers - As I compiled the list of More Fun Comics characters, I was struck by the large number of investigators and private detectives among their ranks.  In fact, even superheroes are generally detectives of some sort.  "Wouldn't it be cool," I thought, "if they all belonged to a fraternal order or club of some sort, wherein especially difficult open cases and unsolved mysteries were secretly investigated?"  That's when I had the idea for a the I.A.I.A..  So, how to proceed?  Let me get the ball rolling.  The year is 1953.  The United States is gripped with the perceived threat of The Red Menace.  "Something Big and Dangerous" happens behind the public facade of the government, but it can't be resolved through normal channels because of the overbearing climate of fear and suspicion.  It somehow falls to the members of I.A.I.A. to quickly and quietly solve the mystery/resolve the crisis without exposing their group to public exposure, McCarthyist inquisition, and/or the very real threat of whatever is revealed as the truth behind "Something Big and Dangerous."  The various I.A.I.A. members, whether extraordinary agents of various government agencies (like Pete "T-Man" Trask, Navy Lieutenant Bob Neal),  members of police departments (Slam Bradley, "Radio Squad" cops Sandy Keane and Larry Trent), private investigators (Dover and Clover), adventurers (Congo Bill, Captain Desmo), or oddball personalities (TV detective Roy Raymond, "Genius" Jones), must pool their collective skills to save the day.  Sound interesting?  Then Pitch It To Me!  Reply to this entry (via the WOMP-Blog Archives on LiveJournal) with what you think the "Something Big and Dangerous" might be, who would be involved, how the story would progress, etc., and we'll see what we can come up with!  Take your time, but try to post your ideas by March 28th.  At the end of the month, I'll use the best suggestions to post a short story and, hopefully, an original illustration to go with it!  For now, I leave you with your first More Fun Comics Character of The Day - Ginger Snap!

The Zombie

Hope, For A Change

"January 31" -  Yes, I know that it's well into February as I type this.  For the sake of wrapping up several loose ends before moving on, let's just pretend that it is still the last day of last month.  I'll get to February stuff in just a little bit, but first let me talk about what was 2008's biggest story not only here in the ol' WOMP-Blog, but, almost certainly, everywhere else.  I'm speaking, of course, about...

The WOMP-Blog's Biggest Stories of 2008
Number One - Hope Votes!

For me, without a doubt, the biggest story of the previous twelve months was the election of Barack Obama as our nation's 44th President.  Far smarter people than I have filled the Internet with articles, essays, editorials, poems, and songs about "what this means," so I won't waste your time trying to match or top what they've already said (and said again).  What I do want to write about is what it was like to go to an Obama campaign rally...

It all began back in October of 2008.  As you may remember, then-candidate Obama was scheduled to speak in nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the 1st, which couldn't have been worse timing for me personally.  As I said back then, "I had hard artwork deadlines looming, an impending comic book convention, an art contest to manage, people to see, places to be...but I had also just said "goodbye" to a lifelong friend (Joe Shulka).  Add that to the troubles facing everyone today, and, well...I just felt like I needed a little hope, you know?"  I also promised to tell you all about it later, so...

It all began in July of 2004.  The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from Illinois gave a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.  The young legislator with a funny name delivered what has since been commemorated as one of the greatest American speeches.  He was compared to Lincoln and Kennedy and Reagan and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by many who saw him.  But not me.  I was at work.  The next day, my wife tried to explain how moved she was by the speech and the eloquence and confidence of the speaker...she just couldn't remember his uncommon name.  "It was something like 'Farouk Ibiza' or 'Iraq O'Hara.'"  She went further, with a prophecy that "That guy will be President someday."  Now, I've been interested in Presidential politics since I was a kid... 

It all began in January of 1977.  Up until then, I'd been only barely aware of who was President.  Even though I was born during the Johnson administration, I had no recollection of any President before Gerald Ford...

It all began in July of 1976.  As our nation celebrated it's Bicentennial, I was swept up in the - let's face it - relatively tepid wave of patriotism that had not excited much of anyone else.  The timing of the event, coming hard on the heels of Watergate and the Viet Nam War, couldn't have been worse, but I didn't know that.  I was just a kid who liked red, white, and blue.  By the time July 4th had come around, I was like a little walking Bicentennialpedia, reciting the names of past Presidents along with The Pledge of Allegiance and The National Anthem.  So, I suddenly knew who The President was.  Later that year, as the election loomed, I learned from my Grandma Fry that the Democratic Presidential candidate was actually related to me!  Suddenly, I was interested in Presidential elections!  That brings us back to...

January of 1977.  All the kids in my grade school were rounded up into classrooms to see the televised Inauguration of President Carter.  As we watched, I was feeling especially smug because he was, after all, family (something like fourth-cousins, once-removed, but family nonetheless).  Then this kid - this even-more-smug kid - starts showing off this letter.  It turned out that the kid had written a congratulatory note to the President-Elect after the election.  To his surprise, and my dismay, he got a personal reply!  Yep, there, in that fifth-grader's hand, was a letter signed by Jimmy Carter.  At that moment, in my jealousy, I became a collector of Presidential memorabilia.  From then on, I saved special Inauguration Edition newspapers, buttons, bumper stickers, and whatever else I could find, all in a vain attempt to have something as cool as that darn letter.  Oh, and I should probably mention that the letter-kid was named Joe Shulka, and that he and I became lifelong friends.  My interest in Presidential politics has also been lifelong, which brings us back to...

July of 2004.  I was determined to find out more about Iraq O'Hara, but had some trouble finding out just exactly what his real name was.  It took a couple of days, but I finally came across Barack Obama's Senate campaign site.  Illinois is a neighbor state to my own (less than 60 miles away, now that I think about it), so I signed up to his e-newsletter, and I've been receiving almost daily e-messages from "him" ever since.  Originally, I did it just to keep abreast of what was happening down there.  That, and after reading a transcript of that convention speech, I thought that maybe my wife's prediction would come true, and I'd be in on the behind-the-scenes build-up to his eventual run in 2012 or 2016.  Imagine my surprise when I got an e-message about two years later saying that Obama was going to run in 2008!  That brings us back to...

October of 2008.  When I weighed all of the reasons why I shouldn't take the trip up to La Crosse to attend the Obama rally, it occurred to me that they were also the same reasons why I had to do it.  I made my final decision when the alarm went off at 6:30AM that morning.  "Aw, why go?  It's not like I'm an undecided voter or anything."  But, as I thought about it, and all of the years that led up to that day, I knew that I had to get up and get going, despite being just, tired.  So, off I went.  Mr. Obama was scheduled to speak right on the public street in front of the La Crosse Center at 10:00AM, but e-mails from the campaign said to show up early.  Because of the traffic, and the lack of parking spaces, I was running a bit late, but, by 8:10, I still found the end of the line (near the Mississippi riverfront) into which people had to cue to get into the secured assembly area.  To call the line "long" is an understatement.  In just the segment I could see, using a count of people between evenly spaced streetlamps, I guesstimated over two thousand people in my "section" of the line.  By 10:00, I had moved to just a half block away from the metal-detectors and security checkpoints.  I was a little nervous about whether I'd even be allowed in, but, as other speakers began to warm up the crowd, the line seemed to accelerate.  By the time someone shouted "And here he is, the next President of The United States, Barack Obama," I had found myself a decent vantage point about a block away on a slight rise near a street sign at the West corner of 2nd and Pearl.  Rumor had it that Mr. Obama had a cold, and that he'd already canceled other scheduled appearances that day to both recuperate and so that he could head back to Washington for a crucial vote, so there had been some concern as to whether he'd even show up.  When he began to speak, he was clearly tired, but he began to speak clearly and forcefully anyway.  I can't explain exactly why he was so compelling as he continued.  In part, it was most certainly due to his patient, steady cadence.  It built, paused, rose, and stilled with near perfect parallel to his words.  But, it was those words which really hit me.  I've never heard a major candidate so clearly espouse my own beliefs out loud.  Heck, I'd never before heard any candidate say even half of that stuff!  Frankly, after eight years (or more) of paying attention to what has been happening to my country, I'd have voted for a ham sandwich if it had won the Democratic nomination, but, to hear this man - this lone, thin, congested man standing in front of ten-thousand people (and the world) - as he talked about fairness, hope, work, and dreams, well...I knew that we all had an excellent chance of reclaiming the soul of our nation.  I took several photographs - I really did - but I was so far away from the dais that Mr. Obama is only visible in them to someone who knows exactly where to look for him amongst the teensy human-shaped blobs in the distance (even so, at six-feet, four-inches tall, I was employed by several shorter members of the nearby audience to capture what I could on their cameras).  So, I instead turned on my camera's movie mode, capturing the dramatic, moving, last few minutes of his speech.  It's on YouTube now, if you'd like to hear it (if so, CLICK HERE).  It picks up just before he wondered aloud how history would judge us and that moment in time.  He said...

"Will they say that we turned on each other?  Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame...when we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success?  That all of us - Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Young, Old, Rich, Poor, Gay, Straight - that all of us have a stake in each other...that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper?"

As I stood there, looking at hundreds of faces which literally matched up to each of his "all of us" descriptions, I knew that whatever people of the future might say, I was finally - finally - hopeful that there was going to be a future at all.  After the speech, I took the opportunity to get some photos of the crowd, the speakers' stand, and so forth.  As I did, I saw people crying, strangers actually hugging, and, frankly, a reflection of the United States of America that I'd first fallen in love with way back in 1976. 

Of course, the rest is history now.  Where we all go from here is still shaky and uncertain, but I join with my fellow Americans - and, really, my fellow citizens of the world - in the reinvigorated hope that, with President Obama's steady, principled leadership, we'll move forward into a better tomorrow. 

(this is The President's Official Portrait, courtesy of Wikipedia)


OK, time to move on.  In the next post, I'll get back on track with a February-dated entry, but, just to wrap up January, I leave you all with your last Dead Comic Book Character of The Day - Casper, The Friendly Ghost!

**MORE WOMP-BLOG EXCLUSIVES** - Hey, they may be terrible photos, but at least I took some, and here are a few of them....