Category Archives: FantaCo

Fred Hembeck is 57


It my friend Fred’s birthday. Not quite sure what new to say, so let me (mostly) recapitulate:

Fred Hembeck is a comic book artist/cartoonist/storyteller whose narratives often involve superheroes interacting with a character named Fred Hembeck. His early work was compiled in a magazine published by Eclipse Comics, which I remember purchasing at a comic book store in Greenwich Village in New York City in 1979.
Fred’s second collection was published by FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, and I met Fred at the store in February 1980 at a signing, a couple months before I would end up working at FantaCo myself. Eventually, Fred would do seven Hembeck publications with FantaCo, including an expanded version of that first Eclipse edition.

Fred would also grab the attention of both Marvel and DC. For the former, he did the Fantastic Four Roast, with Fred MCing the event. He’s possibly best know, though, for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe, where Fred…well, what the title says.

During this, Fred and I became friends, with shared passions for the Who, the Beach Boys, and especially the Beatles, and also television and other popular culture.
But when Fred and his wife Lynn Moss moved out of the area, I lost track of him. I know I learned about the birth of their daughter Julie in 1990 secondhand, and quite possibly a couple years after the fact.

But I’d keep tabs on Fred through various sources from time to time.Fast forward to October 2004. I’m at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, where I see Fred’s and my mutual friend, going back to the FantaCo days, Rocco Nigro. Rocco says, “Have you seen Fred’s blog?” Well, no, but in point of fact, I had never seen ANYONE’S blog. I had HEARD of blogging, but like most people who had heard of it but had never seen it, I had poo-pooed it out of hand. When I actually READ Fred’s blog, however, I was captivated. Not only did I read it every day, I read all of the stories he had written from the very beginning of his blog back in January 2003. His voice was right there; it was as though he were talking to me back in the day.
Eventually, I contacted Fred and we established an e-mail friendship. I suggested a couple ideas for some blog pieces, which he used.

I also looked at his blogroll. Having gotten totally out of comics since 1994, I started reading and eventually following comic blogger folks such as Mike Sterling, Greg Burgas and Lefty Brown, all with whom I have some contact to this day.
Then I came across the now late comic book writer Steve Gerber’s blog on Fred’s blogroll and that pushed me into starting my OWN blog on May 2, 2005, which Fred generously plugged more than once that first year or two. So to say that Fred is responsible for me blogging would not be an overstatement.

Somewhere along the way, Fred and I decided to meet. There’s a MidSummer’s party in upstate New York my wife and I have attended frequently. so, for about three years in a row – but not, alas, in 2009 – the day after the party, we’d travel over to Fred & Lynn’s house for the afternoon. Fred and I would speak in some blogging and pop culture shorthand that occasionally left our wives mystified.
Ever since the folks at Image put out THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS in the spring of 2008, I’ve seen Fred at various comic book shows, once in Saratoga Springs, but usually in Colonie, both near Albany. Frankly, seeing Fred is the primary reason for going, along with our friend Rocco; I might even have an ADD sighting.

I do wish Fred had time to blog more often. He was a daily guy for a number of years, but he’s only posted six times the first 28 days of this month. But he’s had a good reason: he’s been compiling a new feature on his blog: Hey, Did I Tell You About That MOVIE I Saw Recently? Fred’s probably seen more movies in the past 10 months than I’ve seen in the past 10 years.

The best thing about today is that, for the next five weeks, Fred is older than I am!
So go to his page, buy his book (900 pages for $25; the FantaCo stuff is only about a quarter of it) or purchase some artwork, and then go draw a squiggle on your knee – no, the real Fred does NOT have them.
Happy birthday, effendi!

One of the things Fred and I have done in the 21st Century is to make mixed CDs to exchange. Four that Fred did focus on the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I played them all this week. One interesting song, in no way a reflection of Fred himself, of course, is King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man.


ROG

January Rambling

Busy month coming. Black History Month at church, and I’m doing two adult ed sessions. One will be helping to hone my presentation at the Underground Railroad Conference in Troy, NY at the end of the month.
***
The one weekend I won’t be doing BHM stuff, I’ll probably be here.
***
Finally gave blood on January 18. I was scheduled to donate two or three times before that, but just didn’t feel up to it. The four months between donations is the longest I’ve gone since I had to pass for a year when I got rabies shots. The weird thing is that twice in a row, I got reminder cards about my donation six to eight days AFTER I was scheduled to donate; unhelpful AND a waste of money.
***
I was in the home office. There was this thin book that was falling off the shelf. Turned out to be The Connoisseur’s Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film by the late Chas Balun, an item I hadn’t thought about in years. When I was working at this comic book store called FantaCo, we sold many, many copies of the item. I went over to Steve Bissette’s site to let him know about this, and wouldn’t you know, but that he had just written about Chas and that very booklet! How odd.
***
ABC-TV is plugging this new show called The Deep End, about some young lawyers. The voiceover says, “From the network that brought you Grey’s Anatomy”, as though network affiliation is a reason to watch the show. Yet it DOES remind me of Grey’s in that there’s a guy under water; Meredith Grey practically drown a couple seasons ago. I shan’t be watching; hey I got 85% of my DVR capacity used up.

This reminds me of a poster SamuraiFrog wrote about, the text of which was “from the studio that brought you THE PROPOSAL.” as though anyone would go to a film for that reason. Goofy.
***
This incredible machine was “built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft, Iowa.
***
A resource guide re Haiti.
***
Anyone know the shelf life for amoxicillin capsules? Wayne John wanted to know.
***
Another SF-found piece, on gay marriage, a satire.
***
Thom Wade reminds me why I’m not a Mormon
***
The Brand Identity Guru says The Bachelor and Bachelorette Brands Can’t Be More Racist. I don’t watch, but I’d be interested in the thoughts of those who do.
***
Was Jack Benny in the movie Casablanca? Mark Evanier doesn’t think so, but he’s not sure.
***
What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010 under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Works from 1953.
***
Hard to find music and movies.
***
Salon finally figured out the joy of the Kennedy Center Honors. See also Kennedy Center Honorees at the White House.
***
Scholar Ladies a video response to Single Ladies by Beyonce.
***
Finally, the wife is trying to keep the daughter away from aspartame, the stuff in Equal and the other little blue packets, at least in the US, at least it is most of the time. And the stuff shows up in the darnedest places, such as packaged fruit cups one sends the daughter to school with.
But I’ve discovered that the DelMonte fruit cups, e.g., uses sucralose, the substance in Splenda and the other items in the yellow packet. Anyone aware of health issues for children with sucralose?

ROG

LOST Question

This has nothing to do with the ABC-TV show of the same name.

The scripture in the lectionary was that reading in Luke where Jesus is 12 and he gets lost. OK, he doesn’t think he’s lost. Mary and Joseph think he’s visiting other relatives, and travel a day before realizing he’s not with the other travelers. Frantic, they return to Jerusalem and look all over for three days before finally finding him in the temple. Jesus says, “Yeesh, mom and dad, you should have KNOWN where I’d be.” I always thought he was a little impudent. On the other hand, if they were in fact visited by angels before Jesus was born, maybe he had a point.

So my questions:

1. Have you ever been lost as a child?

I was at Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton, NY when I was four or five, maybe six. There were these huge culverts though the park and I wanted to know where they went. I got to the end, or at least as far as I wanted to go, and I came back. *I* didn’t think I was lost; I knew exactly how to get back. But my parents thought I was lost. I vaguely recall their combination of relief and anger.

2. Have you ever lost a child?

Well, no, but I have thought from time to time that I had. Lydia has this annoying habit of hiding, and she’s pretty good at it, too. So there have been a few times I Thought she was MIA, but fortunately, she was not.
***
And speaking of lost, we lost Chas. Balun, horror film expert, a funny, irreverent, and generally nice bear of a man, to cancer at the age of 61. I started dealing with Chas. in my FantaCo days in the early 1980s when Tom Skulan came across one of his publications and we started it sell it. Later we were putting out the magazine he edited, Deep Red, and eventually we published books he authored, such as Horror Holocaust (1986) and The Gore Score (1987). My dealing with him as the person in charge of the mail order, I’d talk to him about the prosaic issue of how the items were selling. We always seemed to find some amicable banter, primarily about music.

Steve Bissette wrote a nice piece about Chas.


ROG

X is for X-Men


X-Men is a very popular comic book published by Marvel Comics. Actually, the idea of X-Men now means a series of comic book titles with an interlocking directory of characters. It’s so popular that it has help create three movies* with name stars such as Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and Halle Berry (Storm) [pictured above] and Ian McKellen (Magneto) [pictured below]. These are shots from the premiere of the first film.

If you look at The Marvel Encyclopedia, updated and expanded foe 2009, which I just happened to take out of the library last week, you’ll find no fewer than 110 references to X-Men in the index; that does not count the seven pages, in the 400-page book, describing the X-Men directly.

But it’s not its successful nature per se that interests me. Rather, it’s…well, let me explain.

The X-Men were introduced to the world in 1963, the same year as the supergroup known as the Avengers. The premise of the creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was that the characters had certain extraordinary (X-tra ordinary) powers at birth, though they weren’t always manifested immediately. They were mutants, outcasts from society. Yet the group, founded by Charles XAVIER, a/k/a Professor X, was sworn to protect those who feared and hated them, trying to bring peaceful coexistence between “ordinary” humans and mutants.

However, the book, by the same creative team that had created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and many, many others, was a bit of a bust. Definitely second-tier in the pantheon of comic book characters. Perhaps the theme of minorities persecuted by a majority was a little bit too “on the nose” for comic book fans of the time.

In fact, for about five years the book was essentially canceled, though reprints were released as X-Men 67-93.

Then a new group was developed in 1975 that was more international in scope, and they didn’t all have those boring yellow and blue jump suits. Others can talk about the particulars of the great success of the revised entity. I want to tell you that, as a comic book fan, I was shocked by both how well the re-envisioning worked and how well it caught on with the public.

Think of the movie Rocky. Better still, think of singer Susan Boyle, from which nothing was expected, yet the judges were gobsmacked by her voice. If that weren’t enough, her debut album sold 700,000 units in the first week in the United States alone and another 500,000 the following week. Such was the success of the X-Men.

So much so that when I worked at a comic book store called FantaCo in the 1980s, and we decided to to a magazine about a comic book group, naturally we picked X-Men. I really wanted to edited it, not just because of my affection for the then-current incarnation, but because I loved the rags-to-riches nature of the title. I write about this at length here, with a little bit of follow-up here.

But as Nik from SpatulaForum writes: “Unfortunately, the ‘X-Men brand’ has been so utterly diluted in the years since by endless spin-offs, impossibly complicated continuity and everything from movies to action figures to beach towels that it’s hard to forget how simple and revolutionary they once seemed.” It’s interesting that the teen artists of Kids of Survival chose to use the X-Men, a run of 1968 episodes of the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally unaltered beyond being placed as the canvas, as their choice, rather than the more up-to-date versions, in their artistic expression.


Here is a picture of my good friend Fred Hembeck’s rendition of the X-Men. You can find more of his work here.

*Yes, I know there’s also a Wolverine film. Len Wein, who helped created Wolverine in Hulk #181, talks about the character here and here.

Another FantaCo Recollection


Gates of Eden (May 1982) was arguably the best thing FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, where I worked from 1980-1988, ever put out. Had a great Michael Kaluta cover, and work by John Byrne, Steve Leialoha, Michael T. Gilbert, Trina Robbins, Fred Hembeck, Foolbert Sturgeon, Lee Marrs, Jeff Jones, P. Craig Russell, Rick Geary, Kim Deitch, Spain, Sharon Rudahl, Gary Hallgren, and John Caldwell. It was also a disaster commercially. Comic blog impresario Alan David Doane has put together some memories of Gates of Eden,; the title was inspired by Bob Dylan. See what Christopher Allen, my Internet buddy Johnny Bacardi, and yes, I had to say about it here.

I was looking at the FantaCo Wikipedia page recently and it occurred to me that someone should do a Wikipedia page for the late Raoul Vezina. Not only did he do the Smilin’ Ed series for FantaCo, he also worked on New Paltz Comix with the aforementioned Michael T. Gilbert. With Don Rittner as writer, Raoul drew a series of Naturalist At Large cartoons, many of which I had bnever seen before.

It came out a while ago, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be plugging Fred Hembeck’s 900-page anthology again. It includes Fred’s seven magazines published by FantaCo, plus about 700 MORE pages of goodness.
***
My, I’ve been feeling crummy the last four days. And I’m supposed to sing this afternoon. I’ve had a range of about a half an octave; wish me luck.

ROG

Date afternoon

One of the things those relationship “experts” always say is that, in order to keep a relationship strong, you need to continue to “date” your spouse/s.o. It’s ESPECIALLY necessary when you have children.

So we decided on a date afternoon this past Sunday. We used to do it once a month, in the middle of the month (we got married on 15 May), but that seems to have fallen by the wayside. The trick about Sunday is that it was communion Sunday (which means a longer service) AND the wife was partially in charge of the after-service snacks. And because my wife’s a deacon, people had things to ask her. So while she was talking, I struck up a conversation with someone. It turns out she kept talking because I was talking, and I was talking because SHE was talking. By this point, our babysitter, who had previously had just been sitting around, had engaged in conversation.

So, it’s 12:45 pm by the time we get home. too late really to feed the child and get to the 1 pm movies. So instead we went out to a restaurant. It’s a Middle Eastern restaurant called Ma Moun. The food was good, but we were mildly worried that no one else came in the whole time we were there.

Then we went to Staples to buy a paper shredder. Tres romantique, n’est-ce pas? Except that it was just nice even doing something that mundane. the cool thing was that they were on sale 25%. The confusing thing was that the one we decided on was only marked down from $79.95 to $74.95; a larger machine would have cost the same. We took it to the counter for a price check and stated our confusion with that minimal discount; the clerk called the manager, who surveyed the situation and said, “How much do you want to pay for it?” Well, since you asked…The manager took $15 off, and the $59.95 was what we had in mind. Usually it’s the wife who picks up on these pricing discrepancies, but this time I sussed it out.

It was a nice date.
***
Did that radio thing I was worried about yesterday; I haven’t heard it yet, but once the nausea went away, I guess it went OK. I’ll listen to it when it’s available.
***
Yesterday afternoon about 5 pm, Joe Fludd, long-time FantaCo customer, e-mailed me with the sad news that Nic Morrison, another FantaCo regular who worked there for a time had died. I enjoyed seeing Nic around from time to time. As the obit noted, he “entered into eternal life on his 47th birthday, October 1, 2009, at the Hospice Inn at St. Peter’s Hospital, ten days after suffering a devastating stroke.” The wake was Sunday, the funeral yesterday; had I known sooner, I might have made one or the other. Quoting a mutual friend, “Nic was a gentle soul and a good person. 47 is too young.”
***
Apparently, Blogger has a limit of 2000 labels, and I have reached that threshold. Thus, e.g., I cannot add Nic Morrison to the label. Sometime when I have absolutely nothing better to do, I will deal with relabeling fifty-three months of blogging.

Autumn of 1988

After eight and a half years, I left my job at FantaCo in mid-November 1988. Leafing through some old journals, I was surprised – actually shocked – to see that I had actually planned to leave a full year earlier. I made a point making sure that people were trained to take on the the tasks I did, with the mail order especially, before I left so that owner Tom Skulan wouldn’t be left in a lurch.

It was odd. I was making more money at the end than i had ever made up to that time, plus paid health insurance, something Tom was providing only to himself and me, though others could get coverage on their own dime; I don’t recall anyone taking advantage of that offer, since they were all pretty young and weren’t making that much.

The problem is that I was making money from all the horror stuff we were selling, and more importantly producing. My old buddy Steve Bissette is currently delineating the Gore Shriek history (and selling some artwork of the period. In some way, it was almost passing the torch to Steve. I was involved in the Chronicles and the like, while Steve was present for the very first Gore Shriek in June of 1988. It was the comic books, not the horror stuff, that drew me to FantaCo, but I balanced the checkbook, and it was the horror stuff that kept FantaCo going month after month.

So I quit. I wasn’t angry, just burned out. Tom felt angry and betrayed, I suspected, and this was confirmed by a couple people. I felt badly that he felt that way but I couldn’t see any real options.

As it turned out, on Thanksgiving Day, I got a call from a guy I knew telling me that our mutual good friend Nancy Sharlet was dying of cancer. I met her when we both worked together at the Schenectady Arts Council in 1978. I started on March 1. March 7 was my birthday; not knowing me well, but wanting to acknowledge the day, she got me this little S.W.A.T. truck, which I have to this day.

The GREAT thing about being unemployed was that I could spend lots of time in the hospital with her, nearly every day for about a month, before her mother came up from Tennessee to tend to her in her last days. She died on January 1, 1989.

After the funeral, I never saw her kids Jocelyn and Jeffrey again. I assume they went to live with their father, Robert, who I did not know well.

I was watching Jon Stewart a couple weeks ago. His guest was a guy named Jeff Sharlet, who is the author of The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Could this be the Jeffrey Sharlet, the six-year-old I played SORRY with when he was six? I found this 2004 interview, and the answer is clearly yes.

“I grew up in what seemed like a mostly Catholic town in upstate New York.” Check. “My father is Jewish.” Check. “My mother, with whom I lived, had been raised in a very unusual Pentecostal home.” Jeffrey and his sister Jocelyn lived with their mother; her religion was a bit unclear. “Her mother, a very poor Tennessean”. Check. “She [his grandmother] raised my mother to be interested in everything.” Double check. “Going to other people’s churches and temples, gathering stories — in my family, that was just how you did religion.” Check, and the reason I was unclear of Nancy’s religion.”

I wrote to Jeff; he didn’t write back; that’s OK. I do wonder how his sister is, though.
ROG