Wednesday, February 29, 2012

COLLECTOR'S EDITION Excerpt #6: The Return of the Milk Crates

As with most people, the migration from my parents’ house to my own domicile was a gradual one. As I shared houses and apartments with multiple roommates in Lancaster and Philadelphia for a few years, the bulk of my collections remained in my childhood bedroom while I merely brought the essentials along with me. “The essentials” being primarily the pop culture books, a box or two of favorite comics and—most importantly at the time—all of my records.

But since the wall unit my father and I built for my bedroom wasn’t going anywhere, I had to cobble together new shelving for each new apartment. I started using whatever wooden boxes I could find, painted black and turned on their sides, stacked in some kind of uneven mosaic to hold as much of my stuff as they could. Those wooden boxes were supplemented with the standard shelving used by most newly-emancipated young Americans: stolen plastic milk crates.

Over the next few years, as long as I had roommates, most of my books stayed with me in my bedroom, but with each new home, they graduated more and more to their rightful place: The centerpiece of the home, the living room.

Those of you with domiciles large enough to feature a den or separate library are lucky, but even if I had the space, I’d still keep many of my books in the living room. While I find it fairly risible when people use books they would never read as mere decoration in their homes, a library that truly reflects your personality is a key part of an interesting décor (and a great conversation starter, to boot).

Any time I visit someone’s home, the bookshelf is always one of the first places my eyes travel. There are fewer shortcuts to understanding someone’s personality more effective than checking out their library. Oh, I see you enjoy the works of Ann Coulter, Thomas Kinkade and Mary Higgins Clark? I think I’ll just go ahead and declare this friendship incompatible.

But at least those disagreeable titles would still indicate a proclivity for reading. Few things freak me out more than a home that’s bereft of any books whatsoever. Let me share a tale from a life past, when my then-wife and I were shopping for a house in Lancaster, PA. Her uncle, a realtor, was of great help in finding homes within the miniscule budget of two twenty-somethings with low-paying jobs. One of the houses we viewed was being sold by a professional couple with a few kids, and I was struck by how screamingly dull the décor was… there was absolutely no sign anywhere in any room of any interests these people may have had. The only books and videos I saw belonged to the children, the few pieces of artwork on the wall seemed like they came with the 100-year old house. A modern treadmill was the only item in a spare bedroom. The entire home left me with the impression that this couple was about a decade older than I, but as we exchanged small talk, I realized that I had graduated High School with the husband. We were the same age.

My wife and I ended up buying the house, which meant I was now officially too much a contributing member of society to get away with using milk crates as furniture. So I asked my Dad to help me make new shelves, two-and-three-level units that would again start with my basic schematics, then become enhanced by my father’s superior woodworking skills. The men in my family were never really into sports; I never played catch with my Dad. He was 35 when I was born, so we never hung out the way that so many younger fathers did with their kids. As such, working together in his woodshop, building these pieces, was maybe the closest bonding we did. I knew I wanted to commemorate each piece, so I took to writing the date and occasion of manufacture on the back of every one, a tradition I continue to this day.

The house was big: Three stories with a basement and a mudroom on the back. Sadly, the living room was one of the smallest spaces in the home, and so most of our books went upstairs in an office space next to the bedroom. My comics and nerdier books were placed on shelves that circled the studio space I made in the attic. We spent months setting up the house, but in the end, it was a waste of time. Nine months after we moved in, I—alone—moved out, into an apartment by myself for the first time in my life.

It was of some consolation that I was finally able to set up my living space exactly as I saw fit, and so I did. Unlike the sizable but cramped house in which I’d just resided, my new bachelor pad was a sprawling—if bland—converted warehouse space, and there was more wall expanse than even I could handle. But figuring out how to spread my shelving and its contents around the apartment was a lovely distraction during a horrible time in my life.

The apartment may have been big, but the town was way too small. So at the end of my lease, I left Lancaster for Hoboken, NJ, just across the Hudson from New York City, a longtime goal finally met. Of course, my living situation changed again, and in two huge ways. First of all, I was squeezed into a small railroad apartment less than half the size of my last Lancaster digs, and secondly, I was back to sharing it with a roommate.

Luckily, it was a good roommate. Unable to afford to make the move by myself (having no job and no money is not the optimum way to move to New York), I had convinced my good friend Rob to make the journey with me, and we both welcomed the challenge of the big pond. Pond? Hell, ocean!

It may have been a giant leap forward as far as my life overall went, but I was suddenly again living like a teenager. Much of my stuff was left in storage at my parents’ house back in PA, and I once again found myself stacking milk crates as shelving to house the 1996 version of “the essentials.”
from the forthcoming book, COLLECTOR'S EDITION: Confessions of a Pop Culture Obsessive-Compulsive
by and © Karl Heitmueller Jr.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The REAL debut of the nascent Superman of the New 52

© 2011 DC Comics
When DC Comics rebooted its universe last year, there was some discussion in the media about the Last Son of Krypton’s attire in the new ACTION COMICS #1 (not quite as much as surrounding his armored duds in the new SUPERMAN #1, but still…). Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rags Morales, the series placed Superman at the outset of his career, still learning how to use his powers to help the citizens of Metropolis and the world. To emphasize the character’s farm boy, working class background, the book depicted Supes clad in a short-sleeved T-shirt with the Superman S-shield, a red cape, jeans and work boots, causing many to equate him with a Super Springsteen.

Some people pointed out that it was merely a variation on the costume that the last version of Superboy had been wearing in the comics for some time (as well as on the TV cartoon, YOUNG JUSTICE). But I recently stumbled across an even earlier precedent, although one of which the folks at DC (at least the current regime) may not have been aware.

© 1975 Playboy Enterprises
The May 1975 issue of PLAYBOY Magazine features a piece of humorous fiction by Robert S. Wieder entitled, “Clark Ghent’s School Days.” It’s a rather uninspired bit of satire written from the perspective of an orphaned nephew of John and Martha Kent… er, Ghent, who was sent to live with them and witnessed the discovery and growth of the babe from Krypton. The piece portrays Clark as a dimwitted simpleton whose powers cause more problems (for himself and those around him) than they solve. Peppered with some discomfiting racist and homophobic bits, the piece isn’t Twain-timeless, and is really best left in the back issue dustbin. Except for the accompanying illustration.

Drawn by Neal Adams (misspelled as “Neil” in the credit), who by then was one of DC Comics’ main cover artists, the illustration shows Clark—looking like a cross between Superman and Li’l Abner—spying on a bevy of naked girls in the Littleville (get it?) Girls Gym. Instead of using the much less-destructive x-ray vision, however, Clark uses his heat vision to burn a hole in the wall, allowing other passersby to get a glimpse of the sundry pulchritude on display.

© 2011 DC Comics
But check out the duds on Mr. Ghent. Look familiar? The S-shield is the only thing missing (especially since in ACTION COMICS #4, Superman changes into a white super-tee instead of the previous blue version).

For those paying attention, I’ve been less than enthusiastic about the latest comic book incarnation of my favorite fictional character, although Morrison has written some great Superman stories. I may well pick up the first trade collection of ACTION (I only bought the first two issues out of curiosity) when it comes out. Too bad DC would never include this illo as a bonus feature in the book, and not just because of the boobs. Everybody’s so grim and gritty over there these days. Even Jimmy Olsen rarely smiles anymore.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


My cousin Andrew and his girlfriend Sharon (collectively and affectionately known as the Butzwingers) gave me this box of Puffs tissues as a semi-gag Christmas gift (relax, they also got me some other stuff, they’re not cheapskates). Everyone had a nice giggle and then we all took turns blowing our noses and moved on.

But take a closer look at this thing. The artwork is… horrible*. Check out the beheaded superhero figure specifically… it’s not just the bad anatomy (what is that right hand supposed to be, an oven mitt? It looks like a vuvuzela!), it’s beyond simply sketchy. The explosions, the lettering, everything looks so rushed that I have to wonder if it was printed from quick, preliminary mock-ups done by the Puffs art department. Maybe they never bothered to contract final, polished artwork. Or maybe someone asked their 10 year old who loves Spider-Man to draw it? It’s only stupid comic book art, who cares?

Apparently, this was produced for the Canadian market (as bi-lingual sound effects—the other side has a scrawled, “Vlan” being French for “Bang”—and provenance on the bottom indicate), but it also made its way onto a supermarket shelf in central Pennsylvania. A cursory Internet search brought up nothing about this box, and I can only speculate that maybe it was some kind of test that escaped into the wild.

Regardless, there’s no excuse for packaging this ugly. However this thing came to be, dear Procter & Gamble, I hereby offer my services if you ever want to produce another comic book inspired package for any of your many personal hygiene products. I’ve got some great ideas for Tampax.

*Aside to Andrew and Sharon: I still appreciate the gift!