Friday, May 20, 2011

COLLECTOR'S EDITION excerpt #1: The Paper Shack

My girlfriend refers to me as an “archivist,” a term far preferable to “anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, time-wasting collector freak.” But regardless of the tag, since about the age of 12, I’ve been saving clippings from magazines and newspapers, compiling files of art, articles and pictures relating to topics of interest, be they comics, music, movies, TV, illustration or images of pretty ladies.

For a long time, I used the justification of the artist’s morgue. I had read that comic book artists kept files full of reference material of any physical objects that could work their way into stories they might have to draw. As a teenage aspirant of that vocation, I followed suit and compiled marker-labeled manila envelopes of clipped pictures of guns and cars and airplanes and animals and buildings and uniforms. I also had files designated, “Male Poses,” “Male Clothing,” “Female Poses” and “Female Clothing” (those last two being by FAR the most overstuffed envelopes).

Back in the days when I still lived with my parents, my files were primarily fed by what was known as “the Paper Shack.” The Paper Shack was a shed that sat on the property of the church that abutted my suburban cul-de-sac. It was the provenance of the Boy Scouts of America, a receptacle for paper recyclables that churchgoers and other local folk would drop off to be collected once a month and taken to the recycling center. This, of course, was in the pre-pick-up 1970s and early ‘80s, when recycling was a nutty novelty.

To me, The Paper Shack was a glorious treasure trove of free pulp, ripe for the pickin’ (it was also a place that I would go to make out with my 5th grade girlfriend, but that’s another, frankly secondary story).

The Paper Shack was about a hundred square foot, prefab corrugated white metal shed with a door that latched with a simple hook-and-eye lock. There was no floor, it sat on a bed of pebbles at the edge of the parking lot, within eyeshot of the rear entrance of the church. There was no lighting aside from what leaked in through the spaces in the metal and from the door, and after a good rain, whatever papers were on the ground were surely soaked. In the summer, it was stifling hot inside, with a musty odor that wasn’t altogether unpleasing. It was also a haven for bees, and more than once I walked out with a red bee-sting bump in addition to whatever magazines I happened to score that day.

The Paper Shack housed mostly newspapers, usually just the local rags, The Lancaster New Era (to which my parents subscribed) and the Intelligencer Journal. Papers from neighboring Harrisburg and Reading sometimes mixed in, as well as the odd Philadelphia Inquirer and every once in a while, a New York paper or two. The gold mine (as far as newspapers were concerned) was The Sunday New York Times. To me, living in what I later discovered was a “D market” for motion picture releases, the plethora of huge movie ads in the Times Arts & Leisure section was like a guidebook to a seemingly unattainable world of pop culture. At one time, an entire wall of my bedroom was papered with full-page Times movie ads (most for movies I hadn’t even seen). I think the first time I fantasized about moving to New York City was looking through the Sunday Times right there on a mountain of newspapers in the Paper Shack.

Of course, there was also the rest of the paper. While at the age of 12, I had little interest in New York politics, Travel & Leisure, the stock market or real estate, I did notice (as Woody Allen pointed out in MANHATTAN) that those lingerie ads were really erotic. A semi-obscured bra ad in the Sears Catalogue looked like a postcard picture of a Mennonite woman compared to a full-page ad of an underwear-clad supermodel shilling for Saks in the Times (Which in turn was nothing compared to when the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue made its way to the Paper Shack in the early ‘80s).

The other coveted booty of the newsprint variety was the comics sections from other towns’ papers. Lancaster’s aptly-titled The Sunday News had an okay comics section, with the main problem being a complete absence of the superhero strips that were common in the late 1970s. When I would snag a New York Daily News section, which carried both Spider-Man and The World’s Greatest Superheroes featuring Superman (quite a title, that) on nice white tabloid sized paper, THAT was a find, like a giant free comic book.

But even those newspapers paled next to actual magazines. As I dug through the mountains of paper, uncovering a big bundle of magazines was like hitting the jackpot. Again, usually, the stack would be disappointing, comprised of catalogues and a wad of boring mom-mags like Good Housekeeping or Redbook. Of the news magazines, I’d only take Newsweek, because I had a subscription to Time and the others didn’t have enough pop culture coverage (Sorry, US News and World Report). While People and US always made the cut, more general interest publications like Life and Reader’s Digest or supermarket tabloids like The National Enquirer would only come home with me if the pickings were otherwise slim or something on the cover grabbed me. Sports magazines, however, may as well have been used toilet paper.

The most recurrent worthwhile score was the fashion magazines. I was probably more aware of the differences between Bazaar, Vogue and Cosmopolitan than any other heterosexual twelve year-old boy in the world (or at least south central Pennsylvania). But this is the thing that I never understood about the stigma of being a guy looking at an issue of Elle: Fashion magazines are filled with photographs of beautiful women, often in clothing and poses as provocative as something out of a so-called “men’s magazine” (remember, it was an issue of Glamour that George Costanza’s mother caught him with in SEINFELD’s legendary masturbation episode, “The Contest”).

And the women in fashion magazines were not just gorgeous, they were often (of import to my ilk) famous; Erin Gray modeled lingerie for Bazaar at the very time moulting fanboys were drooling over her as Wilma Deering on BUCK ROGERS! I actually purchased this particular issue off the newsstand, loudly proclaiming that I was picking it up for my mother, so that the clerk wouldn't guess that I was buying it for Erin Gray wanking material.

One of the pitfalls of being pop culture obsessed is that you tend to have an inordinate amount of celebrity crushes. Sure, almost everyone mentally compiles a short list of unobtainable famous folk they’d smooch (etc.) if they had the chance. But few people are so pathetic as to actually clip pictures of them out of magazines. As someone who fell prey to the easy to navigate world of mainstream sex symbols—Diahann Carroll of JULIA was my first crush, according to my mother—I was one of the millions of males in 1976 that owned the iconic Pro-Arts Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as she was known at that time) swimsuit poster. But it didn’t stop there. I plopped down money at Spencer Gifts and through mail order ads in comic books for 2 x 3’ odes to Cheryl Tiegs, Susan Anton, Tanya Roberts and about five more different Farrah posters (my favorite being a 6' behemoth of Charlie’s feathered-tressed Angel straddling a bicycle in front of a sparkly blue background). I owned two, count ‘em, TWO posters of Loni Anderson, the only possible explanation being that it was 1980, my taste in women was still maturing and she had inordinately large breasts.

Naturally, there was a Lynda Carter Wonder Woman poster, which served as a crossover for my adulation of both sexy ladies and superheroes. And I even scored a huge poster of Blondie’s Debbie Harry in white go-go boots and shorts, clutching her naked breasts (not sure whatever happened to that one, it’s probably worth a fortune today).

My files of magazine-clipped pictures of women fell into two primary categories whose distinction is only pertinent to pop culture nerds: Famous and Not Famous. And while there were certainly images of unknown models that tweaked my hormones, they rarely delivered the impact of women from TV or the movies. In addition to the usual suspects, there were those sadly neglected actresses who were never immortalized by poster companies: Jan Smithers (Bailey from WKRP in CINCINNATI, the MaryAnn to Loni Anderson’s Ginger); MORK & MINDY’s Pam Dawber; Valerie Bertinelli, before she was sullied by Eddie Van Halen; Joanna Cameron (Ohhh Mighty ISIS) and the list goes on…

This is not to say that I had no interest in naked ladies. I certainly did. But in all the years of Paper Shack rummaging, there were only a handful of strikes that yielded that particular vein of gold known as the “dirty magazine.” When it DID happen, it was like stumbling across a Brinks truck with the door hanging open.

The first Penthouse Magazine I found at the Paper Shack (the May 1978 issue) left an impact on me that I cannot overstate. I had seen girlie mags before, but they were always of the tamer bent. One day when I was about ten, I found my father’s small stash of early ‘60s issues of Gent, Rogue and Playboy in a high cupboard over the oven in the kitchen. And my Uncle Tim always had the Playboy Playmate Calendar hanging in his basement workshop. But, while there was undeniably objectification going on, Playboy of that era seemed tempered by an air of respect absent in most media centered around photographs of chicks showing their tatas. (Remember, I’m talking about the magazine as it was up through the 1970s, I can’t speak for what it or Mr. Hefner evokes these days).

The women in those more genial publications were presented more along the lines of art to appreciate rather than pieces of meat to fuck. And they didn’t show the vag.’

So to my still forming tweenage id, sex was more mystical than dirty. Penthouse was the first time I’d ever gotten a bird’s eye (so to speak) view of the vagina. Hell, even in close-up! And then there was Penthouse Forum and Xaviera “The Happy Hooker” Hollander’s “advice” column, in which “readers” wrote in to share their erotic adventures, providing me with some serious “reading” material for frequent treks to the bathroom. But even Penthouse didn’t prepare me for the one time I came across a bag containing some even more hardcore stuff, ala Hustler, Club or Gallery. For the first time, I saw what anti-pornography feminists meant when they called such material violence against women. Aside from shots of genitalia so close up as to seem like gynecological textbook illustrations, the overall tone belied a sense of resentment towards women that I just didn’t like.

But whether I was foraging a Penthouse or a Newsweek, the omnipresent danger of being caught was the same. The optimum time to hit the Paper Shack was a weekday afternoon around dinnertime, when the church was usually completely vacant. The pastor, his staff and the groundskeeper had left for the day, so the coast was usually clear—but not always. As I’d dig through the paper bags and twined bundles, there was nothing worse than the crunching sound of a car pulling into the gravelly church lot. I would quickly grab my ill-gotten gains, stash the pile somewhere in the back for later retrieval and nonchalantly exit the shed as if I were simply dropping off something myself. The fact that I was usually covered in sweat and newsprint may have tipped off some of the more astute recyclers, but in retrospect, they probably didn’t care that some teenage dork was stealing newspapers from the recycling.

Still, the fear was strong, and so I decided I needed a lookout...
Excerpted from the forthcoming book
by and © Karl Heitmueller, Jr.

Monday, May 16, 2011


While trekking the damp, muggy 10K of AIDS Walk yesterday, Y, the Apple Queen, LTBeartaur and I passed the time by playing a game I made up some years back called MOVIELINES. I’ve mostly played this at the bar with the staff on really slow nights, but yesterday it dawned on me that it’s actually a pretty fun way for a group of nerds to spend a couple of hours.

The game works best with about a half dozen players, and at least two of them should be fairly hardcore movie geeks. This is because you have to be able to remember five lines of dialogue from each film chosen, as well as some pertinent information on its history.

Players take turn being the ACTOR, delivering the lines to the AUDIENCE. The Actor thinks of a film (it should be a popular movie that people have probably seen, or the game doesn’t work) and then delivers five lines in descending levels of difficulty. For example, if doing JAWS, you don’t start with “You're going to need a bigger boat,” you use something like “I don’t need this working class hero crap,” then build with ”Okay, so we drink to our legs!” followed by “For that, you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing” and “Smile, you son of a bitch!” The point is to say a line that’s somewhat vague, that sparks recognition, but not immediate identification and go from there. If a line mentions a character that will give the film away, it’s at the Actor’s discretion whether or not to say the name.

Every member of the Audience gets one guess, and if nobody is right, then the Actor gives the first of a series of four clues: Decade of the movie’s release, followed by (after the second line is given, again if nobody gets it) number of words in the title, then the film’s genre and the final clue is the name of one of the supporting actors (not one of the leads). There is no clue after the final line (which should be the most obvious one).

MOVIELINES isn’t really a game that you score, with winners or losers, because it’s rare that the playing field is level. The scenario is usually a few giant nerds (like me) playing with people who may well love movies, but use their brain wrinkles for more important things than memorizing lines and release dates and actors. In this case, the Actor role is taken by whomever thinks of a good film to do, and sometimes that’ll be the same person two or three times in a row. It’s still a fun game.

Let’s play!

1. “I like pizza, too, but I’m not going to marry one.”
HINT: 1970s
2. “We’ve got rats in the attic. You better get some traps.”
HINT: Two-word title
3. “Father, could you help an old altar boy?”
HINT: Horror
4. “You’re gonna die up there.”
HINT: Lee J. Cobb
5. “That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.”

I’m gonna guess that hardcore movie geeks may have gotten that with the first line, serious cineasts with the second, lots of people with the third, many more by the fourth and if you didn’t figure it out by the end, then I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time. Oh, and your mother sucks cocks in Hell.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Announcing: COLLECTOR'S EDITION: Confessions of a Pop Culture Obsessive-Compulsive

This is the big project that's been taking up most of my time this year (and will continue to do so for the bulk of 2011). But I thought it was time to let the cat outta the mylar (if you get that reference, you will see yourself in this book).

COLLECTOR’S EDITION: Confessions of a Pop Culture Obsessive-Compulsive by Karl Heitmueller Jr. is an examination of the changing nature of popular culture from the early 1970s to today in the form of a memoir. Mixing history, humor and criticism with sometimes embarrassingly personal anecdotes, Heitmueller paints a picture of a life that, at the age of 46, continues to revolve around pop trappings that are usually abandoned upon adulthood. But it’s also about how the evolution of technology has radically altered the consumption of culture, making it easier to acquire and perhaps less meaningful in the process.

COLLECTOR’S EDITION is divided into chapters that deal with the numerous aspects of Karl’s obsessions: comic books, music (both collecting and compiling), Christmas, action figures, recording TV shows, books, self-publishing, archiving and a three-decades-running compendium called, “The Motion Picture Log.”

COLLECTOR’S EDITION tries to explain the collector’s mentality, and posits that loving STUFF may not be such a bad thing after all. Readers who share the malady of nostalgia will find much to which they can relate, while those who’ve never felt the urge to scour eBay for a long-lost relic of their childhood will hopefully gain insight to the mindset of an oft-ridiculed demographic.


Bronze Beauties #29: SUPERBOY

In honor of tonight’s final episode of SMALLVILLE, here’s some SUPERBOY Bronze Beauties, including a few that tie into the television series.

Superboy was created by (appropriately enough) Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and made his first appearance in MORE FUN COMICS #101 in 1945. The tales were light-hearted adventures of a young Clark Kent donning the red, blue and yellow costume to help his Smallville classmates get out of jams such as rigged soapbox derbies and poorly-attended birthday parties. The character moved to ADVENTURE COMICS in 1946, eventually earning his own titular title in 1949. Over the years, Superboy aged into a teenager and his stories got bigger and more cosmic, no more so than when he met the Legion of Superheroes from the 30th Century (in ADVENTURE #247 in 1958).

The Legion eventually proved so popular that they first shared, then took over the comic from Superboy, leaving the Teen of Steel floundering without his own book until 1980. In the late 1980s, after John Byrne’s MAN OF STEEL reboot eliminated Superboy from the mythos (having Clark first put on the costume as an adult), new Superboys have been introduced into the DC Universe.

Only last year, in Geoff Johns’ masterful SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN (the latest “definitive” origin of the Last Son of Krypton) was the original Superboy reintroduced into the canon. In a respectful nod to other media’s influence on the character, Johns incorporated elements from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE as well as SMALLVILLE into his version of the story, affording the decade-running TV show a level of respect not shared by most fanboys (due to its many liberties taken with the legend).

While I agree that SMALLVILLE ran at least four seasons too long, I accept it on its own terms, as a sort of “Elseworlds” version of the story in which Superman took longer than every other member of the JLA to appear (rather than inspiring them in the first place). And while I certainly have my beefs with the show, its portrayal of Clark Kent / the Blur / Superman (as of tonight, anyway) is not one of them. The writers stayed true to the spirit of the character, solidly embodied by Tom Welling. For that, I thank them.

I also have a particular soft spot in my heart for SUPERBOY because the first cover below was my very first comic book; My father knew that I really liked Superman (due to the Filmation cartoons of the late 1960s) and grabbed a comic book for me as an impulse on the way home from work one day in 1970.

And Pandora’s Box was opened.

From top to bottom:
SUPERBOY #164 (April 1970) by Neal Adams
(Don’t worry, Pa Kent’s not really dead, that’s an android duplicate in the car)

SUPERBOY #171 (Jan. 1971) by Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson
In honor of Smallville’s AC (Aquaman), the first DC hero to guest star on the show

SUPERBOY #175 (June 1971) by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
Bringing to mind the 2001 pilot, in which a kryptonite-weakened Clark was strung up like a scarecrow

SUPERBOY #180 (Dec. 1971) by Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson
No Smallville tie-in here, it’s just that everything about this cover is amazing (Clark Kent: Madcap Millionaire!)

SUPERBOY #204 (Oct. 1974) by Nick Cardy
Because Smallville featured appearances by all four members of the Legion depicted on this cover (from left, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Brainiac-5 and Cosmic Boy)

Artwork ©DC Comics, Inc.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

With one to go... Smallville final season recap catch-up

After ten years, this Friday the CW's SMALLVILLE comes to a conclusion, presumably beginning the story of Superman (as opposed to "the Blur," the superhero name Clark Kent has been using for the past few seasons). While it's true that a story that should've ended at least five years ago has been dragged out to the overall detriment of the show's legacy, this final season has mostly been a pretty good one for fans of the Man of Steel.

What fans have to remember is that this is as much an Elseworlds story as RED SON or any other adaptation. Aside from the inherent restrictions in adapting Superman for television (or at least as they were in 2001, when the show premiered), once SMALLVILLE became a hit, the producers of this show had to figure out how to elongate a story long past its logical conclusion while still staying true to both the show's edict and the legacy of the character. And they didn't do a bad job, considering.

I'll write a bigger piece on the legacy of SMALLVILLE after the finale this weekend, but for now, here are the links to my Starpulse recaps of the past nine episdes just in case you wanna get caught up (the earlier links can be found here).

Season 10, Episode 12: COLLATERAL
Season 10, Episode 13: BEACON
Season 10, Episode 14: MASQUERADE
Season 10, Episode 15: FORTUNE
Season 10, Episode 16: SCION
Season 10, Episode 17: KENT
Season 10, Episode 18: BOOSTER
Season 10, Episode 19: DOMINION
Season 10, Episode 20: PROPHECY

Hmm, the recap for "Fortune" seems to have vanished into the ether(net), so I'll fix that when it's found by the Starpulsers.

Bronze Beauties #28: The Mighty THOR

In the early years of this glob, I posted a recurring feature called “Bronze Beauties,” spotlighting comic book covers that I loved from the era in which I came of the age, the 1970s, aka “The Bronze Age of Comics.”

I realized the other night that I never did a BB entry for any of the four big superhero movies coming out this summer, and so the feature has again been resurrected, at least through the summer (but probably beyond).

Kicking things off, here’s some covers for Marvel’s God of Thunder, the Mighty THOR!

Thor was introduced in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83 in 1962, created by Stan Lee with Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby as a mixture of Norse mythology and Superman (in the early years, Thor appropriated some of the Kryptonian’s sillier powers like super-ventriloquism and freeze-breath).

Thor was one of the rare Marvel Comics that actually got better after Lee and Kirby left the title. A series of stalwart Marvel Bullpen writers, including Gerry Conway, Len Wein and Roy Thomas worked with the quintessential Thor artist, John Buscema to build one of comics’ most expansive (and at times befuddling) milieux.

Thor was never one of my favorites, but as with most comics of that era, these covers feature a mixture of elements (I love that logo) that grab my id and twirl it like Mjolnir (see the movie, you’ll understand). Unlike most Marvel Comics, THOR often used posing pin-up style covers that were more akin to DC’s style (something that I, as a DC nerd, always appreciated).

From top to bottom:
THOR #182 (Nov. 1970) by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott)
#217 (Nov. 1973) by John Romita
#236 by Gil Kane & Al Milgrom)
#257 (March 1977) by Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott)

©Marvel Characters, inc.