Tag Archives: Ka-Blam

My Old Pal!

For most people, friends from childhood are distant memories and/or simply pictures in a school annual. Facebook and other social media has changed that some, now they’re pictures on the computer. Prior to my joining Facebook in 2009, I hadn’t seen or heard from most of the people I went to high school with since my 20 year reunion a few years earlier. And prior to my reunion, it’d been 20 years since I’d last seen or talked to the overwhelming majority of them.

Me with Thomas Florimonte and Barry Gregory, co-owners of Ka-Blam!

Me with Thomas Florimonte and Barry Gregory, co-owners of Ka-Blam!

There are a couple of people, though with whom I have kept occasional contact from way back when. The earliest friend I still speak with every few months is Duane Holland, a friend from my elementary years. Duane and I were comic book geeks together. He was the only one in my school who could talk comics with me…and yes, we’d occasionally trade comics: he liked the Fantastic Four while I was an Avengers fan. He’d probably strangle me if he knew I was going to tell all of you about the time we camped out in a tent behind my house and sang goofy superhero songs thanks to Mad Magazine. Weirdly enough, I can still hear those tunes in my head.

Barry Gregory, however, is probably the oldest pal that I kept any sort of regular contact with. My friendship with Barry goes back to the 6th grade when I was the new kid in class after transfer-induced move. One or the other of us found out we liked comics and we immediately hit it off.

As 7th graders, Barry and I created our own group of superheroes; we mostly liked the same stuff and so mostly dug each other’s creations. I can’t recall who was first, but it was probably Barry who showed me a few pages of a comic he was drawing (and often tracing. We did that in a bunch of the comics we produced) and I was doing the same.

L-R: Barry, Tony Fortenberry, me, Mark McElroy. The Four Horsemen!

L-R: Barry, Tony Fortenberry, me, Mark McElroy. The Four Horsemen!

But, because we did like the same sort of stuff, we ended up doing a “crossover,” inspired very much by the then-recent Avengers/Defenders crossover. We divvied up the chapters and stories and chores and the story line hopped from my comic to his—just like the Avengers/Defenders story.

I still have much of that work in my possession. In deference to Barry (and since he knows nothing about this post), I won’t put any of his artwork here—and I’m not going to put MUCH of mine here; keep in mind I was in middle school when I did this, so don’t be hatin’! Many of the characters I created way back then live still, if in changed form. The least changed character still around is the Demon character from the Cat & Mouse series.

We kept going to comics one way or another and tried a couple of times to do different things. We were writers in perpetual search of artists. After a few false starts, I stumbled across a few and we tried again. When we pitched Cat & Mouse, we also pitched SilverStorm (written by Thomas Fortenberry) and something we called Hero Task Force (the name taken from several years of RPG sessions). Regrettably, the publisher only wanted C&M and SilverStorm and HTF never came to be.

This is the cover to the first full comic I ever did...back around 1976.

This is the cover to the first full comic I ever did…back around 1976.

Barry, of course, continued to work not only as a writer but as a color guide colorist (created guides that computer colorist would then use to color in photoshop) and I was able to hire him some when I was an editor.

Barry is the same one I mentioned a few months back who introduced me to the comic shop and back issues. He’s now not only a comic creator, but the co-owner in the premier POD (Print on Demand) comic printer in the industry. And while I don’t talk to him as much as I probably should, we remain friends to this day. Facebook or not!

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The First Time

I can’t recall if I’ve ever told my “learning to read” story here. I’ll have to do some searching and if not, tell that story at another time. It’s probably clear to those who visit here that comic books played a vital role in my learning to read experience.

When I first started reading comics, I had to buy them off the spinner racks at the local Stop N Robs. When I was in 7th grade, however, a friend introduced me to something that would forever change my life: the comic back issue. For those unsure, a comic “back issue” is simply an old comic. It could be months or it could be years, but it simply isn’t “new” anymore.

One day while at my friend’s house (we didn’t live near—I’d stay at his house after school sometimes until my dad got off work and would come pick me up. Or I’d spend the night with him and go to school the next day and just ride my own bus back home), we walked several blocks to a sidewalk mall. There was a used bookstore there, and within the bookstore; there were a few boxes of comics. My first trip there, I spent all the money I had on me—which wasn’t very much, of course—but it caused me to want to earn more money so I could buy more back issues (this is what drove me to cut so much grass as a kid—but that’s another story!).

Within a few short months, I learned of the flea market that featured a few vendors there who carried more than just the 4 or 5 boxes at the used bookstore. Shortly after that—before I could drive—I learned of the comic shop and my mom would take me sometimes. Never as much as I wanted, but I did get to go. Once I was able to drive, the comic shop was a weekly destination.

You have to understand that in this pre-internet age, the newsstand dominated distribution and if you were unlucky enough to miss the issue (even of regular magazines!) while it was out, tough luck. I was a big Marvel fan in those days and they always had the editorial notes that pointed me to issues in the past, issues that I wanted because I wanted to know what had happened to the characters that I loved to read about. Discovering there was an outlet to actually find and purchase those back issues was a real revelation for me and changed my “reading” habit into a collecting one. It was at this used bookstore that I saw the first bagged comic (I don’t remember when I first saw backing boards, but I’m sure it was sometime considerably later) and realized that the better condition a book was in, the more value it had. Often I couldn’t afford those in the best condition, but I didn’t want those in poor condition either—I was going to READ it after all.

Of course, we know what my comic reading/collecting turned in to.

That friend who took me to the used bookstore that first time? Barry Gregory. My second oldest friend that I still keep in touch with (the oldest, Duane Holland, only has him beat by about two years) is now a comic creator in his own right and the co-owner of Ka-Blam, the premier POD service for comics! I’ll have to write up an entry about Barry and our budding comic career sometime in the future…but that was not today’s story.

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Hot Springs Village…and MegaCon

This will be a short and quick update on some places you can catch me in the next weeks. If you’re nearby and are able, look me up and say hi. Bring a copy of something for me to sign…or better yet, buy something new from me on the spot…autographs are always free!

On Saturday, March 9, I will be speaking and overseeing mini-writing exercises based on the material covered in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (sponsored by the Hot Springs Village Creative Writers group). I met a couple of the writers when I led the Hemingway Writers retreat in Piggott, Arkansas. I’m honored to know that they enjoyed the retreat enough to suggest bringing me in just for their group (which is, by all accounts, fairly sizable). Now—the pressure is on me! Click here: http://www.villagewritersclub.com/ for more information.

Additionally, I’ll be at MegaCon the following weekend, March 15, 16 and 17 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). You can find me in Artist Alley at Brown #9. While I’ve done a bunch of conventions, this is only my second trip to Orlando, the last one being in 1998 where I got the chance to hang out with a lot of my old buddies (Bill Sawyer, Barry and Jenny Gregory, Tony and Claire Fortenberry [who also put me up during my stay then] and Thomas Florimonte). Some of you know the Gregorys and Thomas from the top POD printing company they own and run: Ka-Blam. While I haven’t talked to them, I’m assuming they’ll be there again—it’s local to them.

If you’re going to be at the convention, come out and see me. As I said above, bring something for me to sign…or better yet, buy something new from me at the con. Autographs will be free there, too!

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