Sunday, August 9, 2015

Whitman three pack comic book ads

As I've mentioned before, I didn't read super-hero comics as a kid. Besides being seen as an extravagant purchase, they were too violent for my mother's taste. When I was allowed to pick up comics, it was usually in the context of a long car trip. Howard Johnson's gift shops were always good for an Archie digest of some sort. Usually, though, it was a Stuckey's cheap breakfast stop and their spinner rack of Whitman three-packs.

Check out for a great gallery of Whitman three-packs

Every now and then there'd be a movie or toy tie-in title (as The Black Hole, above) that I'd be allowed to read, but mostly I was relegated to the safe cartoon titles such as The Pink Panther or Uncle Scrooge. They were still decent books to read, but unlike the bagged Marvel reprints, the ads in the Gold Key/Whitman titles would have the same advertising pages in them for years on end. Which is kind of disappointing to a child, since one had already read those five pages in another issue of a different book.

As an adult who uses these ads for collage purposes, I recognize that they were obviously all printed up in large runs ahead of time and sent out to gift shops and toys stores to sit until they sold. But I also noticed that the ads all go to the same P.O. Box, with various "companies" listed in the address for each mail-in coupon. Someone in New York had a lot of cheap items to get rid of.

(All scans are taken from Buck Rogers #12, dated 1981 and have been adjusted in the computer for clarity)

The first ad is for some sort of balloon toy called "Flipit." They all portray characters that were syndicated on local channels at the time (Frankenstein movies being played constantly on weekend horror host shows). Well, except for Super Chick, which I'm not sure was ever really a thing. They appear to offer all the fun of throwing your favorite cartoon character across the room, only to have him mock you by always landing upright. 

In the 70s there was a bit of a nostalgia craze for old radio shows, among other things. They were probably neat to listen to, but I imagine they had more nostalgia value for Granpa than for any child who grew up in the television era. I get the impression that this ad is trying to trick kids into thinking that radio shows are "cool."


This one is perhaps my favorite badly drawn comic-book ad ever. I spent many a time in the back seat of a hot car wondering what these things actually looked like. Note the hastily drawn Flintstones knock-off figures on the "Bubb-aLoons." And why are the creepy parachute guys called "poopa troopers?" Is that what they do in their pants on the way down?

This one is so "on model" that someone must have had artwork supplied by the manufacturer. Again, Looney Tunes and Woody Woodpecker were on afternoon syndicated shows at the time. Note that the actual size of the scissors doesn't leave much finger space. They look downright painful to use.

This is just odd. Obviously, it's a ploy to get you to check out the "Indian Heritage" catalog of dubiously acquired artifacts, but someone also left a check box for the "Solar Power Booklet" advertised as a Super Pocket Toy Value above. Some undiscovered genius out there could have solved the energy crisis by gambling a $1.50 on a science project booklet and saved the world from Big Oil, if only the listing wasn't buried in a coupon for Real Indian Arrowheads.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Michael Crichton's Timeline


Michael Crichton is one of those interchangeable authors who don't really have a style, as much as they have an agenda of sorts. For Crichton, it's usually a need to demonstrate the need for ethics in science and/or business. The success of one of his novels then rides on how much this theme interferes with the suspense of the fictional framework. At his worst (Rising Sun comes immediately to mind), dumb characters who require exposition bog down the pace of the book; when he refrains from assuming the poor education of his audience, however, these are quite satisfying thriller machines.

This one falls somewhere in the middle. We're given a number of characters who all have degrees rather than personalities, and who tend to explain various theories to each other when the narrative need arises. There isn't as much ranting about morality, however, leaving the reader to grasp the significance of the various decisions made by this novel's combination of greedy business exec and scientist.

For this is really Jurassic Park moved into Medieval Times. A corporation has been secretly using technology to develop a future entertainment empire based on recreating historical eras. They do this by sending people through quantum wormholes into parallel universes that sit along a different timeline. It's not really explained how this travel affects the timeline of the home universe, which it definitely does since messages are passed along the timestream. Perhaps Crichton thought that using up the first third of the book on explaining the theory, as well as setting up plot points, would be challenging enough for the modern reader.

The rest of the book takes place in the author's recreation of Europe in 1357. His descriptions really shine here, and are written with obvious love and interest in the time period. This setting provides Crichton with an almost ridiculous amount of obstacles for the heroes to overcome, on top of providing a "ticking clock" in the form of how long the explorers' batteries will last. He intersperses present and past time cliffhangers with expertise, never losing control of where anyone is at any particular time.

The only real problem here depends on your personal ability to ignore the silliness of the time travel science portrayed here. It only really exists in order to get his players into the past, and to produce technological problems for the people who stay in the present. It doesn't feel as integrated as the genetic and chaos math parts of Jurassic Park were. And as in that novel, it leads to a suitable end for a greedy lead character.

In the end, this is a good one or two day read, suitable for a palate cleanser in-between "serious" novels. If the action movies aren't good enough for you this year, perhaps this will satisfy your yearning. If given the choice, though, I'd recommend starting with The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park instead. This is more like a watered-down but well made sequel than a summer blockbuster.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tolkien and The Pearl Author


Here we are at the beginning of Christopher Tolkien's quest to publish everything his father had written. Unlike the obsessive collections of unfinished stories and notes, however, this one features pieces that appear to be untouched and readable, if not drafts definitely meant for public eyes.

None of these translations are in a "modern style," or perhaps I should say that they aren't dumbed down as most popular presentations tend to be. They are in the language of a brilliant professor of linguistics who was hesitant to replace a perfectly good medieval word with an inaccurate, newer one. Happily, there's a decent glossary in the back for those of us who are a bit more uneducated.

The big draw here is probably Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, being an Authurian tale that is usually given a quick gloss-over along with Chaucer in high school. Joseph Campbell also tended to cover it in his many books on heroic mythology. So, no surprises here as to the story, which leaves one free to just enjoy the language.

Tolkien does his best to adhere to the original alliteration and verse scheme, here and in the other two poems. There's a technical essay at the end of the book that explains his method versus the Pearl author's, but the lines themselves are self-evident in their structure. There's a bit of archaic reversal of our modern noun-verb-adjective word order whenever the syllablic accent count demands, but most of the challenge comes from the usage of technical terms for armor and such.


Being over-familiar with the story, the real surprise for me upon reading this close translation was the inclusion of a long passage giving the symbolic interpretations of the pentacle on Gaiwan's shield. The points are compared to the knight's five faultless senses, his unfailing five fingers, and the five wound of Christ, among other things. Usually in these stories, we're expected to understand the allegorical mapping of events onto reality in an instinctive fashion, as above so below and all that. To be given such a precise amount of information reveals how important this particular symbol seems to be for the author, or perhaps for the sect that he belongs to.

The Pearl is the more difficult poem, and the more satisfying to work through. At it's heart is a dream-time dialectic between a father and his deceased, innocent pearl of a daughter about Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard, as given in Mark. The father (and narrator), even through his grief, expresses the worldly view that earning one's way is the proper and moral structure of things. His missed daughter has to point out that if that were true, then she would not have "earned" the right to live in the city of God. Grace wins out over judgement.

Before he wakes up, the narrator also give a long description of New Jerusalem, after Revelation, using lots of technical terms for precious jewels. There are probably all sorts of extra meanings for each level of the city given, defined by different types of gems used; unlike the pentacle passage however, we're not given any kind of decoding. Another type of communication lost to us moderns.

The Sir Orfeo poem is an odd transposition of Orpheus to the fairy world of Breton. It's a simple story, and a simple rhyming scheme. It's also not very satisfying to read after conquering the complexities of Gawain and The Pearl. I found it interesting that Faerie is presented as the land of the dead rather than Hel, and that Orfeo has a bit of a Ulysses-in-disguise homecoming, but there isn't much else in the way of story to recommend this over Virgil's older version. I imagine Christopher Tolkien meant it to be a sort of relieving bit of fluff to fill out the book, but it just comes off as something his father worked on in his spare time the way you or I would do a crossword puzzle.