Sunday, Jul 7th, 2013

"We're Ready for Our Close-up, Ms. Sinclair…"

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

As if he hasn't done enough to the LOAC audience by unearthing the WCSH-TV feature in which I participated at age twenty-one, my friend Doug Thornsjo again dipped into his video archives and plucked my co-starring role in another televisual feature circa 1997, this time appearing on WCSH's market rival, CBS-affiliate WGME-TV. In this piece I'm sharing the spotlight with a mutual friend of Doug's and mine, artist Lee Weeks, since this was shot and broadcast while we were participating in a store signing in our home state the day after the release of Lee's and my Batman graphic novel. You can see the end result here (the eagle-eyed among you may notice another mutual friend, LOAFer Mike Dudley, standing to the left of the seated Lee in one of the long shots).

Compared to the earlier WCSH piece, WGNME offers far less condescension in the "tone" of their coverage. It helps that WGME was honed in on a single topic—The Gauntlet—while WCSH was squeezing a "macro-level" look at comics into a couple minutes of airtime (and I admit that my perceptions may also be colored by the fact that Amy Sinclair was undeniably cuter than Dick Gosselin!).

The advances comics had made within popular culture circa 1997 are also clearly visible in the WGME spot. No need to cast around for music that might be appropriate in a piece on comics (a rather desperate and futile search, in the case of WCSH), WGME had Danny Elfman's original Batman theme at hand, ready to mix in at the appropriate places. It also helps that WGME had a lot of terrific Lee Weeks artwork to showcase, though note how the nature of video makes TV coverage of "static" comics difficult: on the tube, unlike on the printed page, the image alone isn't allowed to speak for itself, so sound effects are dropped in to provide both sound and vision, thereby rounding out the "viewing experience."

Quality of coverage aside, this video clip represents one of my own personal high points. There was an exceptional turn-out at the comics shop for the signing, including some of my former classmates, co-workers, and friends; Bruce Kingdon and George Sargeant, two of my favorite teachers, also were kind enough to drop by and catch up with me (the shop where we were signing was located in the same town as my old high school and its owner did an excellent job of promotion, so Bruce and George learned of the event through advertising and advance stories in the area newspaper). It was especially nice when Lee's parents arrived to cheer him on, and terrific to have my brother - also a comics reader of long standing - arrive around mid-afternoon.

After the event Lee's and my old friends—Doug and Mike, Howard Downs, Walter Orrall, Dave Peabody, and Tom Field—joined forces with my brother and the store staff to enjoy a delicious repast at Graziano's Casa Mia, long one of my favorite hang-outs. That night featured good food, better friends, and plenty of laughs; it was filled with the moments that are all too rare, moments that, thanks to the hectic hurly-burly of the moment, we never truly get to savor as they happen, but look back on as especially precious as the passage of time grows.

In looking at this clip a few days ago, Lee brought up an interesting point: sixteen years had passed between the WCSH profile in 1981 and the WGME piece, airing in 1997. Between the WGME piece and today? Yup—another sixteen years have passed and a  lot has changed in that time. Graziano's Casa Mia is no more, as we chronicled earlier in this space —Lee traded working on the cape-&-cowl at DC for a string of successes at Marvel, where he has drawn at least one story featuring each of their "core" characters—and despite having a foot through the doorway, I didn't get to step over the threshold into a comics-writing career (the great collapse of 1998 helped see to that). Still and all, I will always look back on Gauntlet with great fondness. Lee tells me he still gets comments about it from fans he meets at conventions. It pleases us both, that readers enjoyed our work as much as we enjoyed producing it.

For me, of course, it all worked out A-OK in the end. I'm mighty pleased to have been given the opportunity to place the lives and careers of Alex Toth and Noel Sickles into perspective, and perhaps to enlivened the discussion about luminaries such as Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, Cliff Sterrett, and others. The parade of "hot new talent" wheeling in and out of the industry during the past sixteen years shows there is never a shortage of folks willing to write about Batman or the X-Men, but as Dr. Johnny Fever asks in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, "Who's gonna teach the kids about Bo Diddley?" It's an honor - and a great deal of fun - to put my talents (however small they may be) to use in service of so many of the men who help build that most American of art forms, the comic strip.

I think this is all the video of me that's floating around out there, so you won't have to see my ugly mugg in any upcoming posts (and I hear you all saying, *Whew* at that news!). If you've been at all amused by these little trips through the video Time Tunnel, you can thank Doug Thornsjo by visiting his website — and checking out the neat items he has available there!