Monday, August 31, 2009

Corporate Toes

The news reverberating through the comic book business this morning is the announcement that Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. As a result, Marvel's stock has jumped to almost $50 a share. Quite a change from a decade ago when the company was in bankruptcy and the stock was in the toilet.

On the heels of this news, I got an email from someone asking, since I had been at DC when Time Inc bought Warner Communications, how I thought the Disney purchase would affect the Marvel Comics operations. My response was, "I have no idea."

Prior to the creation of Time-Warner in 1990, DC Comics was part of Warner Publishing, the WCI division that also included Warner Books, Mad magazine (then a separate entity from DC, with Bill Gaines still in charge), and the Independent News distribution company. DC management had to answer to "the people upstairs" and there was always the feeling that those folks never really understood the comic book business.
I have always thought, by the way, that the Time purchase of Warner was Steve Ross's greatest business deal; he got Time to buy Warner Communications for almost $15 billion and then put him in charge.
Anyway, shortly after the deal was closed, the DC offices were visited more than a couple of times by well-dressed business people with notebooks and clipboards. They were from the Time side of the company and we could tell by their questions and the looks on their faces that they understood the comic book business even less than the Warner Publishing folks. (We used to joke that, when told that DC was a publishing company, they would shake their heads and say, "We work for a publishing company and this is certainly not a publishing company.")
So we were not very surprised when the corporate reshuffling moved DC out from under the Publishing umbrella and and over to the Warner Bros. studio, where we would be a "creative" company rather than a publishing operation. And while we might have thought at the time that we mattered in the TWI grand scheme of things, it was the company's ownership of such franchise characters as Superman and Batman that mattered, not the actual publication of comic books. We were, as one of the execs referred to us, "the littlest toe on the giant Time-Warner monster."

Not long after Time and Warner combined, there was a corporation-wide purchasing conference held at the Warner studio in Burbank. Each company was asked to prepare a presentation of what they did and how they thought the new "corporate synergy" would help them. You could pick out the Time divisions from the Warner ones in a second; the former were very business-like and the latter were all free-wheeling. Every one of the Time side presentations followed the same format: This is what we do (with lots of numbers and charts), this is how we do it (with more numbers and charts), and here are three ways we expect to be part of the synergy (with even more, very optimistic projected numbers and charts).
The Warner side presentations, by contrast, were all over the place. My particular favorite was one of the Warner Music division people who got up and said, "We produce a lot of tapes and CDs so we buy a lot of printed stuff for the packaging. I guess if you wanted to give away a CD with one of the magazines, we could work something out." The DC presentation, by the way, was the closest thing on the Warner side to the Time ones. We actually had some graphs and sales data!

The much-ballyhooed synergy never really came into play; every company had their own ways of doing business and no one wanted someone else coming in and telling them some other way was better. Perhaps the most important thing that came from that meeting was that our counterparts in the other divisions found out that there was a DC Comics. (Although that knowledge seemed to have been lost a few years later: When Marvel was going through its bankruptcy, Time-Warner bigwigs had seriously considered buying the company out because comic book publishing might be a good addition to the corporate empire. According to the story, they were quite surprised to learn that they already owned a comic book company!)

So, to come back to the question about the effect of this current deal on Marvel, I think it is highly unlikely that Disney bought them for the comic book business. After all, the publication of Mickey Mouse, et al, in comic book form, has been licensed out for almost all of the seventy-five years that the medium has existed. And with the entire publishing industry in a downward spiral, it would not seem a wise business to jump into.
Like DC's relationship with Time-Warner, Marvel Comics will probably be a toe on the giant Disney monster, albeit one that someone might actually remember is there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

By the Numbers

I was watching the Yankees game the other day and Joba Chamberlain was pitching. (For those of you who are not baseball fans, Joba is the proclaimed gem of the Yankees farm system and future "franchise" pitcher.) Since he arrived in the big leagues two seasons ago, much ado has been made about how many pitches he is allowed to throw in a game. There has been great concern that he might throw too many, presumably because someone has calculated just how many he will be able to throw in his entire career and they don't want his arm to fall off too soon.

These days, you can't watch a Major League game without someone mentioning pitch counts. One night recently, the commentators were talking about how 100 pitches seemed to have become the magic number at which managers and pitching coaches start thinking about bringing in a relief pitcher. Doesn't matter whether the pitcher reaches that number early in the game, halfway through, or near the end, they will get someone warming up in the bullpen. Pitchers who have complete games are becoming a rarity where once they were the rule.

Case in point, Cy Young, perhaps the greatest pitcher in the history of the sport. In his 22-year career, he started 815 games and completed 749 of them. He pitched a total of 7,355 innings and ended with a record of 511 wins and 316 losses. (Here's another useless baseball stat: In the history of major league baseball, only sixteen pitchers, Young included, have won more than 316 games!) Young won 30 or more games in five seasons and 20 or more in an additional ten seasons; this year, with the season three-quarters over, one pitcher in each league has 15 victories. No one has won thirty games since Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968 and that was the only time it happened since Grover Cleveland Alexander did it in 1916.

Certainly, no one was counting Cy Young's pitches. If he had had the same restrictions then as they now have for Joba Chamberlain and many others, who knows how many more years Young could have gotten out of his arm? He might still be pitching today!


One other note: Joba skipped his turn in the pitching rotation last week because it was decided that he would only start six more games this season. If he had pitched, it would have meant starting seven. I guess that one goes into the bank so he can pitch one more game in 2033 or something.

As the result of the skipped start, Joba had ten days off. One of the commentators, utilizing the overwhelming amount of other useless stats that are now at his fingertips, pointed out that Joba is far more effective when he's had six or more days off between starts. Just how ridiculous is that stat? Well, it turned out to mean nothing at all because Joba was not effective at all. The Yankees staked him to a four-run lead in the first inning, but he gave back two runs in the second and then gave up five more in the 4th...all with two outs! I can just imagine how that stat will have changed the next time he has a week off.

Not surprisingly, the newspaper the next day mentioned how these were the most runs Joba has given up with two outs in the inning in his career. Another stat is born!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I have no idea how many times I flew to the Ronalds Printing plant in Montreal when I was Production Director at DC Comics. Needless to say, there were a lot of them. Even at only 500 miles a pop, I had lots of frequent flier miles on Air Canada and it got so the people at the gates on both ends knew who I was. I also had lots of frequent stayer points at the Hotel Le Grande and there was a point where the front desk manager and I were playing a game to see if I could stay in every room on the 17th floor. (I think I got pretty close!)

Most of my trips there were to okay the printing on various high-profile projects -- the DC Archives editions, Frank Miller's Ronin and Dark Knight Returns, other hardcover and trade paperback editions, plus numerous "Prestige Format" books and custom comic books -- and, despite the fact that the presses ran 24/7, I seemed to do a disproportionate number of press okays in the middle of the night.

In our early days of dealing with Ronalds, there was a hierarchy of sales people I would meet. Angelo, Gabe and Francois were the three in-plant customer reps, Bob was the New York City-based sales rep, and Mr. Dion was the head of sales. If I arrived at the airport and was met by Angelo, Gabe, or Francois, the job was on the press and we were heading immediately to the plant. If Bob was meeting me, we would go to lunch and then proceed to the plant because the job was running a couple of hours behind schedule. But if Mr. Dion was there, we would have lunch, go on a tour of the city and then have dinner, after which one of the others would take me to the plant, because we were way behind schedule.
There was one time that I flew up on the first flight, arriving at about 8:15 a.m., and was met by Angelo. He said that Mr. Dion sent his apologies that he was unable to meet me, but we should go out for a big, fancy breakfast. Angelo handed me off to Francois and we went for a big fancy lunch. When dinnertime rolled around (and there was still nothing for me to see on the press), Francois handed me off to Gabe to go for a big fancy dinner. At this point, I told Gabe that there was no way I could eat another large meal and all I really wanted was a sandwich or a hamburger. Poor Gabe looked like he was going to be shot at dawn; there was no way he could report back to Mr. Dion that he had taken me out for a sandwich for dinner! I had to promise that I would write a note and explain that Gabe had tried really hard to take me out and it wasn't his fault that I only wanted a ham & Swiss on rye.

As time went by, Mr. Dion retired, Bob moved on to greener pastures, and Francois went to work for another printing company. Angelo became my primary contact, with Gabe as his back-up. And while I got better at scheduling my trips so that I didn't lose a lot of time for delays, I still seemed to spend the majority of my visits doing middle-of-the-night press okays.
During the day, we would usually have lunch at an Italian restaurant near the plant and, if it was just Angelo and me, dinner would be burgers at a fast-food place. But if you're hungry after a press okay at 2:30 in the morning, there aren't many choices.
There is, however, Tim Hortons.
Like Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme here in the States, Tim Hortons is a chain of coffee-and-donut shops spread across Canada. Like its U.S. counterparts, Tim Hortons are everywhere and they are always open. Not surprisingly, there was one not that far from the Ronalds plant and Angelo and I became regular patrons.
Every few weeks, he and I would arrive in the middle of the night, order coffee and donuts, and sit and talk business. As you might imagine, there aren't many other people out and about at that time of the night and we were quite often the only ones in the place. But there was always the same woman behind the counter and we started to wonder who she thought we were, perhaps criminals making a deal or spies making a drop. (One time when Rick Taylor filled in for me on a press okay, he and Angelo went to Tim's. The woman eyed Rick suspiciously and asked Angelo, "Where's the other fellow?" Angelo told me he was tempted to tell her I was in jail; instead he reassured her that I would be back next time.)
Usually, we would be headed back to the plant after the donut break, so we would also bring back a dozen for the pressmen, which they always enjoyed. I started wondering if Larry, the night shift press foreman, was arranging the schedule so we would have time to go to Tim's.

It's been more than a decade since I left DC and so I haven't had a Tim Hortons donut since. Until recently. Tim's recently expanded all the way south to Penn Station in New York City and when Laurie was last there, she picked up a couple for me. While I'd like to tell you that they tasted the same as I remembered, I can't. Seems the donuts sold here in New York are baked elsewhere and shipped in frozen; that's not the same as ones that have just come out of an oven in the back of the shop. But for the nostalgia value and evoking of memories, they were just fine.

Oh, about the title of this blog entry. When you're in a Tim Hortons in French-speaking Montreal, you don't ask for donuts...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Writing

Over in her blog (, my wife Laurie talks about the state of writing and what passes for books these days. While reading it, I was reminded some lessons that I use in my CTY class.

One of the types of writing we cover is advertising. To get the kids started, I tell them we have invented the Ultimatoy, the world's greatest toy, and have them come up with all the things it can do. Once we have a list, I tell them they have to design a magazine ad for it. And then I tell them that the price is $6 million. They realize fairly quickly that they'd better not play up that bit of information. (Some are actually quite clever and figure out "convenient monthly payments" that will continue for centuries.)

The next lesson is quite the opposite. The Wonderful Weebil costs only 99c and, after showing it to them, I ask them to come up with all the things they could do with one. In fact, the Weebil is the plastic lid of a cole slaw container. In this lesson, they see that the price is the most important thing about the Weebil and when they design a package for it, they play that up and keep the product's true identity a secret.

When time permits, we move on to a third ad, one to sell the Writing & Imagination class they are in. Many of their efforts have been clever or amusing, but the one that remains my favorite was done in the very first class in which I used the lesson. One of the girls covered her entire page like so:


When I asked her what she was doing, she said, "Putting words on the paper."
"Ah," I said, "but is that writing?"
And, in one of those moments when you can actually see the idea light bulb go on, her face lit up. She grabbed a marker and wrote across the page:

Which brings us back to Laurie's blog (for those of you wondering about the synapse trail) and the fact that these days anyone with an internet connection who posts a stream of words somewhere thinks that they are writers. But, as many people who have tried to read the blather can attest, they aren't.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Name Has Been Changed

I've noticed on TV and in print recently that Radio Shack is apparently trying to change their name and their image, playing up that their "friends call us 'The Shack.'" It is certainly a wise idea to move the company into the 21st century; no one is going to equate cutting edge technology with a store that has "Radio" in its name. But when they say "The Shack," I think of a place on the beach where someone is cooking up burgers, hot dogs and ribs. Why not play off the fact that they're not just about radios anymore and start calling themselves Tech Shack or something like that?

They are certainly not the first company or product to change its name to get in tune with the times. Kentucky Fried Chicken starting calling itself KFC some years ago, when "fried" became a bad word. Oh, we older folks still know what the F stands for, but there's most of a generation that has grown up never hearing the word associated with the Colonel's chicken and may well think it stands for Finest, Fresh or Finger-Lickin'.
Similarly, does any young visitor to fast-food Jack's know that it used to be called Jack in the Box?

One of my favorite product name changes was the breakfast cereal currently known as Golden Crisp. Way back in the 1950s, it was introduced as Sugar Crisp and it took its place on the shelves with Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Sugar Smacks, Sugar Jets and probably a few more that I don't remember. When just plain Sugar wasn't enough, they changed the name to Super Sugar Crisp. (Sugar Bear, the cartoon character on the box and in the commercials, donned a Superman-like costume to celebrate.)
But them "sugar" became a bad word, while honey became the nutritious sweetness of choice and we got Honey Crisp (and perhaps even Super Honey Crisp). Up and down the cereal aisle, Sugar Pops became Corn Pops and Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks, while Frosted Flakes and Jets just dropped the word completely.
Meanwhile, Honey Crisp became Super Crisp, Super Golden Crisp and finally Golden Crisp. I doubt that the sugar content has changed much in all these years; according to a 2008 Consumer Reports report it and Honey Smacks have the highest sugar content of all cereals, more than 50% by weight! (No wonder they taste so good!)

In the comic book business, Timely Comics of the 1940s became Atlas Comics in the 50s and finally found a brand name that would endure with Marvel Comics in the 60s. DC Comics, although known in the trade by that name for almost all of its existence, started as National Allied Publications and later National Comics. In an apparent attempt to hide what it was they published, they became National Periodical Publications in the 50s and 60s. But they finally acknowledged their source of income in the 70s when the name was officially changed to what everyone had been calling it all along. MLJ Comics, on the other hand, which began publishing superhero comics and the like, realized where its bread was buttered quickly and changed their name to Archie Comics in 1946, and has remained the same since.

I suppose we'll have to wait a few years to see if "The Shack" catches on as a name. Meantime, I expect I will hear from a few of you readers about other companies and products that have changed their names, for good or bad.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Empty Nest

Ostensibly, Laurie and I have been empty-nesters since Sammi first moved into the dorm at Hofstra six years ago. But since she was only twenty minutes away and made frequent visits for meals or to get laundry done, we've never really felt like she was gone. Even when she was in Italy for a month or down at CTY for six weeks, there was still the feeling that she hadn't really left.

Not so any more. Having taken a job teaching in an elementary school in Middlesex County, Virginia, Sammi has moved eight hours away. She'll be sharing a house with her good friend Vanessa (who is teaching one district over from Sammi) and doing a five-day-a-week commute to work. (When she was working as an RA and then as a graduate assistant in the Spirit Support office, Sammi seemed to be on duty 24/7, so this new schedule should actually feel easier.)

Sammi and I moved half of her stuff down there a couple of weeks ago. This morning, with her car loaded and her friends Jill and Rory in a second car (filled with items Sam had said would go "if they fit in the car"), she set off. At 4:30, she was happily ensconced in her new home, unpacking, putting together furniture, and generally getting ready for the next phase of her life.

As for Laurie and me, we'll be settling into the next phase of our lives as well. Tonight we played Scrabble (the old-fashioned way, with the board and tiles!) for the first time in many years, perhaps since Chuck was born.

With unlimited minutes on our phones, email, and Sammi's penchant for posting photos on Facebook, we'll still be hearing and seeing what she's doing. But Laurie won't be packing up dinners for Sam to take back to the dorm and my laundry piles won't suddenly swell because she's come by with a two-week load of dirty clothes.

And while I was tempted to end this entry with some words from the Beatles' very melancholy "She's Leaving Home," I think it is more appropriate to quote a different one of their songs...
"Oh blah-dee, oh blah-da, life goes on, la-la how the life goes on..."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Satchel Paige

I've just finished reading "Satchel" by Larry Tye, a biography of Leroy Robert ("Satchel") Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of professional baseball and the marquee player of the Negro Leagues in the first half of the 20th century. While Tye has apparently done extensive research about Satchel's life and career, the book is, overall, disappointing.

The individual chapters read as if they were written as a series of essays and later glued together. This could possibly explain the repetition of information throughout the book; indeed, there were a few parts when I stopped and thought, "Did I already read this page?" For example, Tye discusses Satchel's age -- one of the facts Paige fudged throughout his decades-long career -- numerous times, but never quite gives a definitive answer.

Much of the book focuses on the prime of Satchel's career, through the 1930s and 40s, where he played anywhere and everywhere and always followed the biggest paycheck, even ignoring contracts he signed if something better came along. As Tye correctly points out, Satchel Paige was baseball's first free agent, long before they had invented free agents.
Unfortunately, the narrative moves chronologically while addressing one facet of Satchel's life, then jumps back in time to comment on another, complete with repetition of information we got in previous chapters. Tye tells us about Satchel's first wife, then does not mention her for a long period. Discussing the pitcher's two-year stint in Puerto Rico, Tye tells us of another woman Satchel became enamoured of. As I was reading about his marriage to this woman, I thought, "Hey, what happened to his first wife?" Tye reminds us that, by the way, Paige was already married, but he does not address the repercussions until much later.

That Satchel Paige was hurt to not have been chosen as the player to break Major League Baseball's color line is not surprising to learn. Indeed, he was the player in the Negro Leagues who brought in the crowds wherever he played. But he was in his forties by the time Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson and on the down-slope of his career, so, despite his popularity, Satchel was bypassed for the much younger Robinson.
Satchel did make it to the majors, pitching for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and 1949 and then for the St, Louis Browns from 1951 to 1953. Amusingly, the "much-younger" Jackie Robinson was long-retired when Satchel made his last major league appearance -- albeit as a publicity stunt more than anything else -- pitching three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965.

Perhaps what is missing most in this book is the feeling that Satchel Paige, like Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra, is one of the great "characters" of baseball history. Tye mentions often that people would flock around Satchel just to listen to him tell stories, but doesn't give us examples. The book would certainly have benefited from their inclusion. One chapter highlights a number of Satchel's most quotable quotes, but more could have been done.

Finally, while Tye's research into Satchel Paige's life appears to be extensive, his knowledge of other players is lacking. Most jarring are his references to Joe DiMaggio; in one instance he calls him "Broadway Joe" (actually the sobriquet of Joe Namath) and in another refers to him as "Jumpin' Joe" rather than "Joltin' Joe."


The Wit and Wisdom of Satchel Paige

On age...
"Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter."
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"

On baseball and his career...
"I never rush myself. See, they can't start the game without me."
"You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them."
"My pitching philosophy is simple; you gotta keep the ball off the fat part of the bat."
"Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move."
"I use my single windup, my double windup, my triple windup, my hesitation windup, my no windup. I also use my step-n-pitch-it, my submariner, my sidearmer and my bat dodger. Man's got to do what he's got to do."
"I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I would toss one that ain’t never been seen by this generation."
"I ain't ever had a job, I just always played baseball."

On life...
"Mother always told me, if you tell a lie, always rehearse it. If it don't sound good to you, it won't sound good to no one else."
"Avoid fried food, it angries up the blood."
"Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common."
"Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines."
"Money and women. They're two of the strongest things in the world. The things you do for a woman you wouldn't do for anything else. Same with money."
"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching."

And my favorite...
"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chase-ing Our Money

Yesterday at work we received a notice from Chase that they had placed a hold on a pair of checks we had deposited. Under "Hold Reason" it states "the deposited checks are not consistent with the account's normal deposit activity." The hold period is 9 -- count 'em, 9 -- days! Further, it states that "If the checks you deposited are paid, we will be happy to refund any Chase overdraft or Chase returned check fees directly caused by this deposit hold."

Okay, so let's take this a bit at a time.
First of all, the deposit is no different than many of the deposits we have been making for years. They are checks from our largest customer, one of the biggest construction firms in the world. It is not unusual at all for us to receive a check of six figures from them.
Second, nine days?! Who are they kidding? Do they expect us to believe they are waiting for an armored truck to arrive at the branch with a pile of cash?
Finally, they "will be happy to refund any Chase overdraft or Chase returned check fees caused by this deposit hold." What about fees charged by one of our vendors if Chase bounces a check we've written, expecting this money to be available? I guess they don't think they are responsible if we were foolish enough to try to spend the money in fewer than nine days.

Banks have always played games with the "float," that period between the time you deposit a check and the time they credit it to your account. It's no longer the property of whoever wrote the check but it isn't yours yet either. For whatever that limbo period is, it belongs to the banks (and, obviously, they decide how long the period is).

In the pre-computer days, it would take longer for an out-of-state check to clear than a local one. Not so any more. Millions of dollars are transferred all over the world with a couple of keystrokes every minute of every day, but the banks still insist that it takes days to collect the money. And, as a result, every time we deposit a check, we are making an interest-free loan to the banks.

So, if this is one of the games the banks play and it's right under our noses, one can only imagine what else they are doing where we can't see them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Like the fictional Brigadoon that appears for only one day every hundred years, the CTY site at Washington College rises out of nothingness in late June every year, only to disappear again in early August.

As the final week of CTY 2009 winds down, the staff is already packing up materials they will not need again until next year. Classroom supplies go into plastic tubs that are inventoried and labeled and sent off to the storage unit, along with the balls, Frisbees, and other break time items.

Tomorrow afternoon the students will depart and the staff will finish "striking the set" in the classrooms and the offices. Then the administrative, instructional and residential staffers will pack up their own belongings and move out of the dorms. By Saturday evening, it will be as if the camp had never been there.


Since 2002, I have taught in the same classroom and lived in the same dorm room, so there is a sense of familiarity (and deja vu) despite the 46-week gaps between CTY summers. Indeed, each year as I drive the last dozen or so miles into Chestertown, I feel as if I have just done it a couple of weeks earlier. And each year when I leave, there's a sense of "See you in a few weeks."

Unlike Brigadoon, however, the cast of characters changes from year to year. Yes, there are a number of returners each summer, but there are also new people, some of whom will become returners and others who are "one-hit wonders." But there are always enough familiar faces every summer... and the new folks blend in quite quickly. Ultimate Frisbee games, kayaking, the Tuesday movie night, and other "traditions" restart almost instantly and everyone who joins in has "always" been a part of them.

And despite the sense of time standing still from year to year, the people do change. They get engaged, get married, and have children. They graduate from college, get jobs and change jobs in the real world. One of my colleagues, who started as a Teaching Assistant in 1996, moved on to become an Instructor and finally the Site Director, came back for a visit this summer. She was telling one of the new folks how long she's known me and said, "I feel like Bob has watched me grow up!"


The last dance of the session tonight, like all the dances at all CTY sites, will end with the playing of "American Pie." There are a number of stories about how this particular tradition began, but whatever the origin, it is one tradition that no one will break. (One year, when the CD with the song on it went missing, staff and students ended the dance by singing it a capella.) And despite the fact that all of the students and many of the staff members were not even born when the song debuted (and fewer still were around when "the music died"), everyone knows the words and sings it enthusiastically.

In 48 hours, Washington College will go back to being a college and the CTY staff and students will be scattered across the country and the world. Until next year... when Brigadoon will reappear.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Can I Have Your Autograph?

Among the writing prompts that we use in the CTY class are some pieces that I have written. For example, when we discuss setting, we use a page from my unpublished novel, The Junkyards of Memory, in which the main character visits the home of an old high school friend. After reading the description of the house, which is quite messy, we ask the students to describe the bathroom. Not surprisingly, what we usually get makes the world's worst public washroom seem like heaven.

A group of radio plays that I wrote some years back is the basis for another lesson on dialogue. The plays, which I've mentioned before, feature the group of high school students in 1969 and all are based on some of my earlier writings. One, "The Fire," began as a sketch in Elmont High School's "Green & White Gaieties" variety show in 1968, in which a student tries to report a fire and gets caught up in the school's red tape. The others, though seeming to be far-fetched, are only slight exaggerations of events that actually occurred during my high school years.

Lauren has used both prompts in her class, just as we do when we work together, and her current students, after reading them, asked how she got them. That she actually knows the author seemed to surprise and delight them, especially after she told them that I had written hundreds of comic book stories as well. (One has to wonder if they think she also knows Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Dr. Seuss, and the other authors whose works we use!)
So imagine their response when I came to visit last week. They stopped what they were doing and, after one asked me for an autograph, the rest followed suit.


Over the years, I signed my fair share of autographs, most of them at comic book conventions and comic book shops, but also at schools where I've lectured on the comic book business. The vast majority, as you would imagine, are on copies of comic books that I've written, though there have been a number of sheets of paper, some napkins, and even a cardboard box or two.

Early in my comics writing career, I visited a local show and was surprised to find someone selling autographed comic books. The reason for my surprise was that the comics were autographed by me! When I told him who I was and that it was not my signature, he was shocked. His father, he said, had gotten them from my father.
So I called up my dad and asked if he was giving away the comic books I had been giving him. "Of course," he said. "Isn't that what they're for?" When I asked about the autographs, he replied, "Oh, I signed your name. People like them a lot more when they're signed." From then on, I always signed any books I gave him.

Perhaps the strangest thing I ever signed was a soda can. I was doing a guest appearance at a local comics shop in the mid-80s and after I finished drinking a soda, one of the fans asked if he could have the can. Well, in the days before eBay and auctions of such things as celebrity germ-filled tissues, it was quite odd that he would want a soda can simply because I had been drinking from it. Besides, who would ever believe that I had even touched this can?
Simple, of course. I would have to sign it. So I did and the happy fellow left the store with his prize, leaving me wondering what his parents would say when he brought it home. As it turns out, his parents apparently had no problem with it because he recently found me on Facebook and said that he still has it!