Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In the Chatroom...

Back in the mid-1990s, AOL was king of the internet and their chatrooms were the place to be. There were chatrooms of all kinds, for bowling enthusiasts and butterfly collectors and left-handed bacon lovers. Not surprisingly, there were lots of comic book fans there as well.

This was also back when you accessed the internet via a dial-up connection and paid AOL for every minute you were online. When DC Comics made a deal with AOL that got staff members "official" screen names with free unlimited online time, it was a wonderful thing.

Some of the DC editors started hosting online chatrooms related specifically to the characters whose books they edited. These chats were scheduled at a specific time each week and quickly attracted a regular audience. I started to "drop in" on these chats and thought they were fun, so  I volunteered to host an hour of my own. The powers-that-be thought it unlikely that DC's Production Director would attract an audience, but agreed to give it a shot. Since it would not focus on a specific DC character and we would talk about anything comics-related, I gave it the name "Anything Goes."

It turned out that I had no difficulty building an audience.  Since I had for a number of years written the "Ask the Answer Man" columns in the books, comics trivia became a mainstay in the discussions. At some point fairly early on, I started asking trivia questions and, not long after, began sending prizes to the people who answered them correctly. The prizes, mostly printer's proofs of upcoming books and covers, were quite popular as well as a convenient way for me to clear stuff out of my office.

A regular AOL chatroom was limited to 24 people at a time; when it was full, people would have to wait for someone to log out (or, as was more likely back then, lose their connection) in order to get in. Throughout the hour, I would be IMed by fans saying, "I can't get in. Tell somebody to leave!"  To alleviate this situation, the size of my chatroom was soon doubled to 48.

My early trivia quizzes were random collections of questions, often inspired by a topic someone brought up in the chatroom. But as they grew to be the most popular part of my hour, I started devoting more energy to them. On February 3, 1997, I presented the first of what would turn out to be a series of almost two hundred "themed" quizzes. It was structured so that the first letters of the dozen questions spelled out "The DC Statues" and the answers involved the characters of which statues had been produced.

How's your comics trivia knowledge? Here's a quiz appropriate for this week...

1. Walker Gabriel was offered “the franchise” by what super-villain?
2. His father tried to cure him of Sakutia, a rare tropical disease, resulting in who getting super-powers?
3. A seemingly indestructible magic book crashed through her roof, restoring the powers to what Superman foe?
4. Two Julius Schwartz-edited 50’s space heroes share the same first name; who are they?
5. Seeking his father’s killer, a man known only as Claggett, which western hero freelanced as a deputy?
6. Invention of a special damper replaced the gloves of “fibro-wax” that kept whose powers in check?
7. No one knew about whose mercenary actions until his son Joseph was kidnapped?
8. Addicted to the pills that powered him, who took a leave of absence from the JSA?
9. New Venice was home base for awhile for which hero?
10. A stolen Legion flight-ring, a Rip Hunter time machine, and a robot named Skeets all played a part in whose origin?
11. Montreal’s 1976 Olympics and a Gold for the decathlon are pieces of the past for which hero?
12. Eventually rescued by teamwork, which Hero Hotline member’s kids were held hostage on a school bus?

As time went on, my "first letter clues" and the quizzes themselves became more elaborate and guessing the theme became another part of the weekly contest. In addition, I would drop "BobRo's Fun Facts to Know & Tell" -- random bits of trivia that often were also hints to the theme -- through the hour. I think I may have had as much (if not more) fun dreaming up the themes and designing the quizzes as the chatroom audience had solving them.

After I left the company in October of 1998, I continued to host the chatroom, though no longer at the official DC/AOL site. Where I had confined the quizzes to DC characters before, now the entire spectrum of comics history became fair game. The trivia became a part of an online column I began writing as well as a daily quiz (which still runs at www.wfcomics.com/trivia).

On September 3, 2001, after some three hundred Monday evenings, I called it a night as I hosted my last chatroom. AOL has long ago lost its lofty status -- do they even have chatrooms any more? -- and the travails of dial-up connections seem like ancient history. Some of my old chatroom regulars are now Facebook friends; many others have disappeared into the ether. But we had a lot of fun during the six years that I did it.

As for all those trivia quizzes, well, I just recently came across a set of floppy disks -- remember them? -- with virtually all of the questions, answers and even the Fun Facts saved for posterity. I've decided to collect them into a book which will soon be available alongside The Secret History of AA Comics and The Junkyards of Memory. (Watch that column on the right side of this page!)


Don't worry, I didn't forget about the Trivia Quiz answers.
In honor of President’s Day, some of the men who have held the highest office are spotlighted…
1. Chronos (David CLINTON)
2. Beast Boy (GARFIELD Logan)
3. Yellow Peri (Loretta GRANT)
4. ADAMS Strange and Blake
5. The Wyoming Kid (Bill POLK)
6. The Human Bomb (Roy LINCOLN)
7. Deathstroke (Slade WILSON)
8. Hourman (Rex TYLER)
9. Aquaman (ARTHUR Curry)
10. Booster Gold (Michael Jon CARTER)
11. Black Lightning (JEFFERSON PIERCE)
12. Microwave Mom (Belle JACKSON)


  1. Those were great times and a great way to relax on Monday nights after attending hectic Boy Scout meetings. Thanks for this reminder and thanks for being one of my long-time online pals.

    Hoy (Did I win yet?) Murphy

  2. Monday night trivia was a great pick-me-up throughout working three jobs, nearly failing out of college, and my father's cancer in '96 and '97.

    By late '97, I'd lost my dad and graduated from college, and one of those three jobs had become my full-time gig — working for a comics shop as their back issue guy. When a local bartender approached me with the idea of generating some traffic mid-week at his bar, BobRo's Monday night trivia (and the before- and after-parties as people milled around waiting for the Answer Man to show) were partly the model for what we cooked up.

    Good times indeed.

    Scott Simmons
    @SecretHQTweets on the Twitter
    AOL screen name: AlienAtLarge