Sunday, October 23, 2016

You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

Two years ago I e-mailed Janna Malamud Smith, thanking her for writing My Father Is A Book: A Memoir About Bernard Malamud. She replied the very same day.  Spin-your-head-turnaround in the 21st, the expected cyber-experience.  

In 1988, roughly three years after I mailed comic book artist Sal Buscema a gushing fan letter backloaded with the whining request for a sketch of his signature character The Incredible Hulk, I received a note and autograph. Sal's reply was mailed to a Forest Service Ranger Station address invalidated not only by the steady slow crawl of three years time, but two family relocations, including a none-too-stimulating hop from rural eastern Oregon to rural eastern Washington.
Sal Buscema pencilled virtually every issue of The Incredible Hulk  from #194 - 309. Enhanced by a love for the Lou Ferrigno TV show and brief ownership of a stretchy Hulk doll, The Hulk was my gateway drug into collecting comic books. Right around the time I started receiving a monthly box of the equivalent of crack cocaine from Westfield Comics, the much maligned pop art form, courtesy of such dark materials as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, "grew up".  

In 1985, my teenage brain wasn't properly suited to go all a-tingle from The Original Writer's dark spin on superhero teams (I continue to blame the soft bigotry of low expectations, my teachers' seeming rallying cry; my wife lists books force-fed her high school English classes; almost all titles as foreign and unfathomable to my God-fearing wheat field community as orbiting spy satellite).  It wasn't until I was an adult, flipping through the coffee-table version of Watchmen that I was finally capable of comprehending the multitude of wonders the genre-altering 12-issue series contained.  

Towards the end of Buscema's tenure on the green goliath, Bruce Banner took over control of the Hulk. Marvel heroes rejoiced, only to reel in horror as the supervillain Nightmare's dreamtime machinations undid the fix and unleashed a rampaging brute upon the Marvel Universe, leading to the Hulk's forced exile to a dimensional crossroads.  Following DC's leap into more "adult" territory, came a revelation that Bruce Banner's mental issues sourced from an abusive childhood.  This darkness after Buscema's exit, a tale more akin to a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola's artwork than Buscema's tried-and-true workman-like efforts.  

By the time Buscema's reply ended up in the mailbox, I was losing interest in collecting comic books.  Movies were much more interesting.  Late-1988 was a crossroads between the two art forms, and if you could believe Starlog and associated genre periodicals, all sorts of potential franchises were in play with Tim Burton's in-production Batman movie the mighty Everest amongst the array of tantalizing nerd-peaks.  

So fallow my love for the form, I'd even stopped collecting The Incredible Hulk.  By that time, the title was in Peter David's steady hands, but the abyss John Byrne and then Al Milgrom had deep-dropped the character down provided poor real estate for the repetitive though satisfying 'Hulk smash' tales that had initially drawn me in. 

Roughly a year later I cancelled the comic book subscription service altogether.  That would've been the end result even if Sal had thrown me a bone and included a Hulk sketch.  Part of me remains tickled that some anonymous Forest Service employee put forth the effort to forward Sal's reply, and part of me still feels snubbed.  

"I want that drawing of the Hulk" - not quite as catchy a phrase of violence-tinged melancholy as Better Off Dead's timeless "I want my two dollars" riff, but when it comes to the satisfactions and assurances pop culture provides, it remains a nerve-endings exposed hollow, needlessly, given the fact a Google search provides a plethora of Buscema-drawn Hulks ready for plucking.

It's the world wide web's gulpability factor that fans fan's flames. For free or for a Paypal purchase, I can get all the Buscema Hulk I can stand or afford.  At the same time, if Sal had a Twitter or blog or Facebook, I'd expect if not outright demand personal connection. One wee drawing be-damned, I might reach a feverish pitch, expecting my affections repayment in a 'Like', a 'Reply', a 'retweet'. 

Sadly, the kind of affection I still feel for Sal is on ready display given the gut-punch thousands feel at the all-too-soon passing of Preacher co-creator Steve Dillon.  2016, bad news wings its way to you the moment it happens.  1988, I would've only learned of a comic book artist passing far after the fact, and only if I looked in the few periodicals catering to my social subset: Amazing Heroes, Comics Buyers' Guide, The Westfield Newsletteretc.  

To hear of someone of Dillon's estimable achievements dying even a week after the grim announcement is unfathomable to this wired world. I speculate few could process receiving three years after the fact any sort of word from on high, better late than never acknowledgment of pimpled, braces-sporting worship.            




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