On April 20th, George O’Connor, Simon Fraser, Becky Cloonan, Robin Ha and I went to the Museum of Natural History to draw dinosaur bones.
I did these sketches and then wrote this short story about the time I was six years old.
My love of dinosaurs is not as deep as George and Simon’s seem to be, but I think there’s a reason for that.
I have a distinct memory of when I was first mesmerized by those frightening prehistoric reptiles. I lived in upstate New York as a child. WAY upstate. I never visited any museums with real dinosaur fossils. For me, seeing those giant assemblages of bones in their attack poses was something that only happened in movies. No, I had no museum I only had a woman we’ll call, “Betty.”
My mother was the head nurse at a nursing home and worked with a large group of women who were also her circle of friends. Betty, a chubby woman with a beehive hairdo, had teenage children who now spent their nights at ball games or driving the borrowed car to places where girls hung out. Her kids had no need for their childish possessions anymore.
Thus, one day as my Mother’s friends gathered in our kitchen for cheese and gossip, Betty handed me a large book with a big claw like footprint on the cover. It was a book about dinosaurs. She told me her children didn’t read it anymore and I could have it.
It was already on the verge of falling apart when she gave it to me, but I remember slowly reading about how cowboys followed a lightening strike in the desert that revealed a pterodactyl fossil in the side of a hill. I didn’t understand exactly what the lighting bolt had to do with a dinosaur fossil at that young age, but I assumed that was the story of how the first dinosaur was discovered.
Many times after that when Betty visited, she seemed to have another dinosaur book she brought with her.
“I found another old book my kids don’t need anymore.” She would say as she handed it to me. I soon gave her the best nick name a six year old could come up with; “The Dinosaur Lady.” One time she even walked into our house and asked me why I wasn’t watching the monster movie. “It’s got dinosaurs in it!” she said and showed me what channel it was on. I was shocked that an adult actually knew when Monster movies were on. I thought I was the only one who secretly scanned the newspaper TV schedule for these rare screenings. Secretly, because my parent frowned upon such moves.
While at our house, Betty and the other nurses sipped from bottles of Budweiser or Old Milwaukee. They smoked cigarettes, complained and laughed loudly at jokes they told quietly when I was nearby. They let me taste beer so they could watch me make a sour face, and Betty would either have another book for me or be patient enough to let me show her one of the books she already gave me. Books she must have known by heart bone by bone, but she listened to me as she blew the smoke out the side of her mouth and away from me.
One day I sat on the floor occupied with a toy I can no longer remember. I sat not far from the telephone and didn’t really notice it ringing. My Mother answered, let out a shout and sat hard in the desk chair. Rattled out of my pretend world by her pained voice, I watched her hold one hand over her eyes while the other held the phone receiver tight to her ear. She cursed to herself and made painful sounds to who ever was on the other end of the line. She hung up and held her head in both hands with elbows on the desk.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“You know the woman you call the Dinosaur lady?” she said rather quickly as if she didn’t have time to tell me. “Well, she died.”
“How did that happen?” I asked.
My Mom answered with a touch of anger in her voice I mistakenly though was aimed at me. “She ate a whole bunch of pills. A lot of pills.”
I didn’t know what that really meant at that age and my Mom wasn’t of a generation that believed in explaining these things.
That First dinosaur book she gave me eventually fell apart and as I got older I forgot the “Dinosaur Lady’s” real name.
It is now generally believed that the mysterious mass extinction of most of the dinosaurs 61 million years ago occurred due to a massive asteroid impacting the planet.
I wish we were certain that we knew this was the reason.
I recently sat down with a Saison Dupont and gave the new Buz Sawyer collection a read. Saison Dupont! It goes good with some stinky cheese.
I’m not going to write a review of the new Buz Sawyer compilation from Fantagraphics. Either you like the quaint writing from a bygone era of American history or you don’t. As for Roy Crane’s art? What can I say. It’s first rate. When I go to sleep I see it in my dreams. It causes me to fidget fitfully late at night, as deep down I know I’ll never be that good. If you hate your eyes, never look at any Roy Crane art. The above panel of an air-sea battle for example creates such a sense of depth with only black, white and some grey tones that it looks like a frame right out of a classic black and white movie.
And look at that underground cavern!
Check out this underground hideout!
Hints of Tintin perhaps?
Review? Hell, I wasn’t even going to read the comics. I just wanted to study the art. Trace the art. Squint at the art and caress it from time to time. After all, this collection contains a fan letter from a young Al Toth, so you know this is good stuff. You can see that Toth, John Severin and probably even Frank Miller were into this guy.
As far as reading it goes, I didn’t go in expecting much. I was both repulsed and fascinated by 1940’s America while at the same time drawn into the story. It was WW2 after all, and it’s no surprise that the Japanese are referred to as “monkeys” and portrayed as less than intelligent buck toothed adversaries. I’m not going to berate Roy Crane for how he may or may not have felt about race, as I never met the man or read an autobiography about him. To be fair, the introductory essay by comics historian Jeet Heer, points out that Mr. Crane traveled in Asia extensively after the war and “cringed at the way his assistant Hank Schlensker drew Fiendish Orientals.”
Also not surprising are the appearance of African Americans in the strip. All two of them. I spotted one railroad porter and one waiter. Both drawn with the exaggerated large lips and wide eyes often found in illustrations of the day. Sigh. Jeet Heer also elaborated on this by pointing out some editorial direction Roy got about showing blacks in the strip. He was urged NOT to show them if he could help it, as he would be “inviting trouble.” Again, I don’t know Roy’s personal feelings on this subject and I’m not judging him. Black culture and how it’s been represented throughout American pop culture is an essay for another time.
Roy produced Buz with the help of the U.S. navy at times so it was obviously going to be as positive a view of serving in the military as possible. I had expected a very white washed view of the war as far as the story was concerned, so I was surprised to see some rather graphic content introduced. One soldier is tortured to death, starting with the old bamboo under the fingernail treatment. And I have to admit that a later storyline involving a commander who keeps a list of which pilot will die next, was surprisingly engaging for a mere newspaper strip. Such a good story in fact that I won’t spoil it here for those who plan to read it.
Speaking of fast paced war stories! Spankings!
Or rather, sex!
Yes, “it” was hinted at and Roy obviously enjoyed drawing shapely women showing as much skin as was allowed. We are treated to a peek at Buz’s girlfriend, tot naked in the bathtub and are introduced to “Sultry,” a scantily clad underground rebel who helps our hero escape the Japanese. Rather than actual sex with Sultry though, we have some possible foreplay consisting of her trying to kill Buz, after which a spanking is administered. And after that, you guessed it, they get down to some hugs and kisses. Later in the story, Buz swims out to her yacht one night, and Sultry signals her arousal by pulling a knife on our hero. He strong-arms her, gives her a stern talking to and again they start with the smooches and dreamy eyed stares. When we next see Buz after the yacht scene, it’s morning and he’s back in his barracks assuring his pal that he is not just getting home, but just waking up like the other men! Thus letting the audience know he did NOT spend the night on the yacht with a beautiful woman. Yeah right, Buz.
Speaking of odd sex rituals, silly elf hats?!
Were these really the height of fashion in 1944? Really?
I should add, by the time I read this chapter I was on my third day of drinking my rather large bottle of Saison Dupont. I’d have to say three days is a day too long to keep this beer in the fridge. Still good with some cheese on the second day, but I’d add some pate´ to the mix at this point.
Maybe even some sweet gherkins.
I bought my copy at Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn.
At the time of this writing they have one more copy left.
It sits high up on a top shelf where none but the most worthy can touch it.