Herb Trimpe

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May 26, 1939 – April 13, 2015

Just this Saturday, many friends and family of Herb’s gathered at St. John’s in Kingston to say farewell. Herb Trimpe had passed only a work-week before. Herb was a relative picture of health, the rug-underfoot-yank sensation is still fresh. I do not like church services but I was immediately alerted to something different in this one. The fellow in the ceremonial robes introduced himself as the Bishop Of New York.

We in the world of comics were not especially surprised to learn that Herb had become a Deacon in the Episcopal Church. Herb was worldly and other-worldly… well, you had to know Herb a little. But what we did not know was that the Reverend Deacon Herbert W. Trimpe had served as Chaplain for many months after the attack on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

I could not imagine the internal strength needed to view with composure, the individual victims of that day. But my buddy Herb had it. He served as Chaplain for all, offering solace to the victim, or their family or just the people in and around the site. As sacred a soil as America has as any. He kept a daily diary of his experiences and wrote a book from them:

Power of Angels by Herb Trimpe

Very well written, an easy read. I thought it could have been twice as long. Here are the numbers in case you want to get your own–

ISBN-10: 0972432728

ISBN-13: 978-0972432726

This guy, this Bishop of New York, this is “The Man” and here he is eulogizing one of us. That was different by a lot.

In the church service, Bishop Dietsche, as it turned out was an artist and had contributed cartoons to church publications. So he was one of us “comic bums” just a lot more serious. Then he spoke of Herb’s work at Ground Zero. That was moving enough but Bishop Dietsche zoomed out a bit to include all of Herb’s work as a ministering. That he was reaching out to all who had read his comic work, all over the world and through all the time of his work. That comic work, Herb’s work, could inspire, uplift or reach out to his audience as a ministering, was a very touching and moving idea to me.

The Bishop went on to say that the work done at Ground Zero had changed Herb. That he ceased to practice as a Chaplain after that. Still the Bishop and those in charge did not stand him down. The Bishop was quite clear that Herb is still a Deacon.

To us in comics, he is still a comic creator.

Christie, Ramona, Terry

Christie Scheele, Ramona Fredan and Terry Austin reflecting on Herb

Then came the dreaded 23 Psalm. I had become sensitized to the words, all of them, at a service for Morrie Kuramoto. I could hardly bear to hear them again said over another friend.

Thinking About Herb

My buddy Herb died about a week ago. He attended a big comic convention just a few days before he died. Herb was always surprised that anyone gave two finger-snaps about what he did in the past. He would exclaim, these guys know more about what I did than I do! That’s comics for you.

I got to know Herb as a fan, as I was growing up. Herb drew, for me, the definitive Ant-Man (his Egg Head is still a comic book paradigm). He got those crazy ants just right, looking and acting like willing horses. Old Hank Pym was in good, er, hands. Everyone around Marvel knew Herb even though he lived in far off, exotic Kerhonksen (upstate New York! Pretty exotic to a midtown Manhattan kid…). He started in the Bullpen when it was small; in fact he ran the nightmare contraption Photostat camera that was just barely still in use when I started in comics.

Herb had done comics as a pro… Kid Colt one year, Godzilla, Iron Man, G. I. Joe following that, pretty much anything. As mutual friend, Jack Morelli would describe him, he was a “ham and egger.” One of the generally talented people who could do anything. Marie Severin, supremely talented lady of the Marvel Bullpen, had taken the time to nurture and guide his raw talent. Something he spoke of with genuine love. Marie told of the extreme fun she experienced while flying in Herb’s Stearman bi-plane.

Trimpe visits Marvel

One of the rare times Herb came into the office! Sometime in 1981. Herb was in on a plot consult, the two figures to image left are Doug Moench and Louise Simonson. Herb had a big and easy laugh.

 When I got a chance to hire Herb it was not as a fan; not as such. Herb and I connected while talking about the past. Perhaps it was my old boss, Editor Louise Simonson who suggested Herb as artist to a pitch I made to her about The Further Adventures Of Indiana Jones. Ultimately I took over editing that book and could not use that pitch. But I could use Herb! I tried my best to exploit Herb, I got the strong impression that he was happy with his assignment when he could write, pencil and ink his own story. To say that Herb always seemed to have “one foot in 1939” would not be an exaggeration.

Indiana Jones Pin-up by Trimpe

An unused pin-up for The Further Adventures Of Indiana Jones. Unalloyed Herb, breathing in and breathing out a 1940s air show. One of my most-prized possessions.

Time moved on, I left Marvel and next saw Herb at a comic con in the late 90s. It was a strange one in that it was whipped up to fill a sad vacuum caused by the loss of the very big New York Comic Con. Also, it was held in a huge but airless church basement. We were all staggering around in stifling heat and there was Herb! This was the first con he had done in a long time. Marvel had changed a lot in the decade that fell between Herb and I seeing each other. In that time, comic work had dried up. In a master stroke of sublimating frustration, he had written and illustrated a New York Times Arts & Leisure Section article about his experience during this “dry patch.” Using his diary, he writes far more compellingly than I could; alas, this archived article doesn’t seem to have the art:

http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/010900edlife-56-edu.html

To make ends meet, Herb became an art teacher. Those kids didn’t seem to know what they had! When I found him in that “basement con as oven,” he was just getting into that. We agreed to meet up. Herb and I had model-building in common. By the time we actually did meet, he was out of the teaching game, a bit disillusioned. During our first meet-up, he brought a jump-ramp aircraft carrier he was modifying, scratch-building a whole new deck. We spent a lot of time talking about “alternate history” fiction. There is a fantasy world out there, new when we got re-acquainted, about WWII going on a little longer. Time enough for many of the “wonder weapons” to be developed and fielded. The genre is called “Luftwaffe ‘46” and a little later, Luft 47.

Coincidentally, I had started a small model-centric business with one of my products being a German designed spaceplane, co-opted by the Nazis as a vehicle that could deliver a bomb to America! So we had lots to talk about. Not that long ago, I put together a model for fellow comic mainstay, Walt Simonson. Another “America Bomber” last-ditch war effort that never left the blueprint. I scratchbuilt many new pieces and Herb and I had a lot of fun going over those details.

DB Plan B Heavy Bomber

Daimler-Benz “Plan B” modded from an all-resin kit made by Anigrand. Heavily re-worked for Walt Simonson’s recent take on The Rocketeer. Normally, this craft would have from 3 to 5 smaller aircraft hanging from the underside(!). Walt wanted one big bomb.

 

 

 

 

 

I had just seen him only a few weeks ago. He had brought his latest Luft 47-inspired creation. An unusual push-pull plane that had actually made it to production and flight during the war, Dornier’s Do 336 “Arrow.” But for Herb, it had been used by the Kriegsmarine service and was finished in those colors:

 

Herb used a brush to get this eggshell finish, very hard to do. We compared “old man” assessments of our hands and eyesight. A mutual friend, Charles Barnett, had picked up inking a recent job for Herb, where Herb had left off. I had seen the pages and was agog at how fine and steady the inked line was. And Charles, of course, had to match that. Herb had painted the windscreen framing by hand.

The laugh we had over eyesight was that Herb managed to find a 3X pair of glasses at Walmart and a 2X pair of glasses at the Dollar Store and wore one on top of the other to see better!

We both had a very good time. We did not notice that 4 hours had slipped by. When a new waitress came by to ask if we needed any refills, was when we realized a shift change had occurred. We thought we’d do it again.

I already miss my pal.

Herb Trimpe selfie

Herb sent me this after our lunch. He had been experimenting with capturing still frames from a war-game flight simulator and laying his picture in. For fun.

 

 

 

 

 

www.warmplastic.com

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April, 2015:

warmplastic.com  is closing immediately. The business of making low cost alternative vacuum formers for hobbyists  is no longer viable. I would like to thank the many thousands of customers over the past 15 years and hope they will find their various KVW tables of use to them for many more years to come.

This little business got started by my shooting off my mouth. Isn’t that always the way? I was researching some of the German “wonder weapons” around WWII with a friend and spotted the Sanger-Bredt Spaceplane design. I remarked that it was the perfect subject for vacuum forming and subsequent modeling. The flat-topped and slab-sided design with large radii joining them were perfect. My friend said, great! Can’t wait till I get one!

A long time ago, my ever-patient wife had gotten me a small, home vacuum former. This table had something that made it very appealing: an electric hot plate side! This followed a standard vacuum-forming table design, which was two sided. One was the vacuum part and the other had a heated part. What is not apparent about sheet plastic is that, once heated up it will act more like limp balloon rubber. A frame has to be used, as plastic has a “memory” and will revert to some primeval form when heated up. In commercial tables and this little guy, the frame was on a hinge that allowed it to swing from the hot side to the vacuum side.

It made use of a fairly conventional metal picture frame. What was unconventional was a pair of L-shaped inserts that were screwed into place on the inside of that frame. One had to punch out a dozen holes in the plastic, then thread through some bolts into some nuts. Very time-consuming and fidgety. Plus it didn’t work as sold—what I realize now is that those L shapes had cut metal edges. They were sharp enough to cut the plastic and thus break the seal around the inside of the frame. Frustrating. I mention this in the middle of the story because I tried to make it work on my spaceplane model. I actually but my pattern in two to fit on the table! As I say, ‘frustrated.’

In the wonderful modeling mag, Fine Scale Modeler, there was article after article about how fellow modelers would make their own table. There was one fellow who placed plastic between two screwed-together metal frames and held this over a gas stovetop. Holding the frames in his hands with rags! Then there was a fellow who literally made a vac-former out of a cardboard box used for wine bottles. He kept the bottle inserts and taped a piece of mosquito-netting on top. He duct taped his vacuum cleaner hose into the bottom of this box. Then he stapled a sheet of styrene to a piece of Strathmore picture frame. He balanced his carved-wood shape on top of the cardboard inserts/mosquito net, heated up his plastic somehow and got as many forms as he needed!

These articles of matter-of-fact success infuriated me! As I say, I had shot off my mouth to my chum, had moved upstate and now had a basement.

For no apparent reason I had a drill-press for years in my tiny Manhattan apartment. When I moved upstate I discovered the world of garage sales and found a table saw. Within a week of fussing around, I had a working vacuum former. I spent time fabricating my first “buck” or pattern. I had once worked at a place just down the avenue from a plastic shop and ordered a couple of gigantic sheets of styrene from them.

This was mid-1999. This is what it looked like:

I spent time fabricating my first “buck” or pattern. I had once worked at a place just down the avenue from a plastic shop and ordered a couple of gigantic sheets of styrene from them.  This was mid-1999. This is what it looked like:

 

Note the taped-off holes to concentrate the vacuum right under the pattern. This would pull the plastic tighter into the gap. Making a vac-formed model is far different from an injection-molded store-bought model. When the shape is cut from the full sheet, what one is left with are egg-shell edges and thin walls. There was much more to build from raw materials.

The very first vacuum form “shot” I made came out perfectly! I went on to fail for the next 4 or 5 attempts. But I was encouraged enough to press on.

This is the finished model:

 

Sanger-Bredt Spaceplane

 

Alas, my friend had passed away before I could give this to him. But I thought this wasn’t such a tough model to build. Since no such spaceplane had been fielded by the Germans, its coloration and markings were fair game. I found all the reference I could and even managed to contact the Sanger family for permission to issue a model of this subject. For a few years, mine was the only kit version out there.

I also had a vacuum former design that I could make from my home. Thanks to the young internet, I could also sell them. I spent a good deal of my start-up money on print advertising. Not content to make a one-size-fits-all version, I designed a fiendishly complicated model that had two forming tables built into one! The Kingston Duo:

The Kingston Duo

 

I quickly realized I would have to step up to becoming a student of fine carpentry—till that point, all my experience was from books and TV’s The New Yankee Workshop! So I abandoned the two-faced model and concentrated on a series of useful sizes.  I am no lover of the practice of fine carpentry. Far from it! These tables were designed to be easily made by me and so that any sloppiness would not affect the performance of the tables. For example, all the corners have a rabbet, which is a notch that the adjoining piece of wood fits into. If there’s a gap, it’s only on the outer surface. There’s a piece of wood with a blob of glue still sealing the corner.

I used to finish the tables with a urethane polymer finish. One day I started up a long run of plastic forming. After about 10 minutes, I could feel that the finish was softening. Alarmed, I discontinued that practice and the wood is now raw.

Here is the “New Family” sometime in 2001:

 

Here is the “New Family” sometime in 2001

This tower is minus the smaller Canopy Master, which was asked for so many times I finally put it on the website in 2003. The IPMS (International Plastic Modeling Society) used to sell a simple metal frame with which to hold a small piece of clear plastic over a candle. This was to make thinner, more “in-scale” versions of plastic kit airplane canopies. You forced the heated, softened plastic over that canopy to make a copy. I sized my smallest table around something I could safely hold in the table saw. I also realized that the Can Master was a good deal for any foreign purchasers. The international mails are cruel and uninviting!

Because I had such a great first experience with my own vac-form project, I decided to sell each table with plastic. When I saw the plastic just snap down around my buck, I gave a cry of delight. In fact, on the few times I had a local customer come over to be shown how it’s done, they too gave a child-like cry of glee. I wanted every customer to have everything they needed to get started as soon as possible. If they already had a pattern all they had to do was wait for the oven to warm.

When I started there was a fellow selling a kit of pieces to assemble your own table. There was a rather audacious fellow who would show off a commercial grade table and then offer to sell you plans for a very elaborate , fairly expensive table. Both of those fellows seem to have faded. But along came someone else who had figured out something my wife (IT Officer) and I had not: eBay! To be competitive, I had to match him and give up including plastic with each order. The customers of my primary competitor didn’t seem to have noticed that by buying plastic at the same time as their table, they were spending as much or more than on my tables. To be fair, those fellows built a better table, very close to the same design, just better made. Their only oversight was not mentioning that some of their tables would need a larger oven than was in most American homes. Unless their clients had a pizza oven handy! All of my tables would fit in a conventional American kitchen oven. And include a support to keep the plastic off the oven rack!

Those guys do one thing going for them that I did not. They use metal insert corners for their aluminum window-frame “rails.” This means their table can handle the higher temperatures that polycarbonate (better known by the brand name Lexan), ABS and acrylic require. As well as Kydex, newly discovered for holster makers and knife sheathes. My easy-does-it approach to making the metal frames involved a thermoset-plastic corner that allowed me to use a much simpler butt-joint. But those corners could soften if the temperature was set too high. Not so, the all metal type.

A short internet search will find these gents and you will see that their product is top-notch. Whoever does the work on their shop floor makes a very nice job of each table and right here in America. I was never so inclined to make such neat “furniture” for my clients. My tables are tough indeed! They could well serve as foot stools when not vac-forming. But they were never intended to be display pieces. I knew that the design worked and could work well, so I never spent time neatening bits of fluff from the outer skin of plywood. Or caring too much about aligning parts.

One of the reasons I am closing up shop is the learning that some customers expect the best no matter for what purpose. One fellow pointed out that he could have made the vacuum former that I had sold him. All it was, he allowed, was a box with holes drilled in it. I pointed out to him what I have pointed out on the website from Day One: Can you build this yourself? Of course! All I am doing is saving you the trouble of walking up and down the aisles of Home Depot or Lowes. Perhaps I was uncharitable to point out that it was also much easier to make something once you’ve seen how it was already made.

I encouraged him to please send me a picture of his eventual  labors. I am hoping for several coats of varnish on that hardwood and brass trim… perhaps a green felt-lined cover with hinges and a lock… It’s been many months so far and no pics. I am hopeful.

Another fellow observed that there were too few holes to get a successful pull. To circle back for a sec, not long after I started, I found online a group who built body armor for Star Wars storm troopers, in what is now more widely referred to as “cosplay.” The plaster pattern for the chest piece was so large, the plastic-with-frame stuck out of the oven! Also their forming table had only one—repeat: one—hole in the center of their hand-made table. They were forming .080” styrene. Okay, back to ‘now.’

Prominently in the instructions is the observation that a vacuum cleaner is really a fan. As such, the “vacuum” it generates is only so good. A commercial vac-former is all-metal, one part of it is a metal tank that has a vacuum pump on one end and a metal tube that runs to the forming table (“plenum”) on the other. That metal tank is evacuated of air to a “good vacuum.” There is an electric valve between the two.

When the valve is opened, the violence of the rush of air between the two chambers is such that the plastic does not have to be very soft to make a good form. This process is also quick. The plastic provides the seal to all the little holes.

For the rest of us who use a vacuum cleaner, the fan will reach equilibrium between the whole table system and the outside of the vacuum cleaner itself. At that point it’s all over. I go on in my instructions, to say that how we compensate for that lack of power is to overheat the plastic. When styrene sheet heats up it will sag a little under its own weight. One must let it sag quite a bit for “taller” objects that stand off the table. I go on to say that time is of the essence. One must move quickly from oven to vac-table. In those commercial machines, there is generally a heating area attached to the table. It is either to one side or directly above the vacuum part.

I also point out that experience will teach you more than anything else. The first few shots are bound to be bad. It’s also a way to see how your buck is working. Some changes might be needed. Elaborate designs can be hard to predict. My general advice is to look at things like poured candy bars (Nestles, Chunkies, etc.). They show what is possible.  I recommend using Sculpey to make patterns. It is already heat resistant and you can run a heat gun around (quickly) on it, a lot. Then there’s the complication of chocolate molds, or any finished shape that needs a large flat area around it. One needs to be able to scrape the bottom of a choco mold with a spatula. The little bumps from all the non-essential holes can be a problem. I took a sheet of plastic, cut a hole smaller than the pattern base, lifted the pattern just a little bit to make a gap…

 

 

 

On the left: Scuply, not tapered sides, rounded corners and low lettering. Right: one thickness of plastic to make the flat area and two thicknesses of plastic to elevate the buck.

 

 

 

Then, the forming itself. In the pic on the left, one can see the barrel of a heat gun and a small stick of wood in my oven-mitted hand. I wanted tight, sharp corners down to the table top.  Because this was a literal “one off” (I made 3-4), I was not going crazy about the sharpness of the letters. All “one” had to be, was legible. But, if you need sharp lettering, a rounded, pointy stick can get the job done. But it’s time-consuming. On the other hand, the results can be terrific and a small set of molds can remain in service for a long time. Thus it can be a good investment of time.

Chocolate is hard to remove from a mold. Enough cocoa butter will act like a mold-release. But the chocolate still has to be easily lifted from the mold. Designs that call for lettering on the top-side can be done. I hope that the lettering is fairly large. Use a heat-gun to gently soften the plastic. Use your oven-mitted finger to push the plastic into the indented letter shapes. Small, raised lettering… essentially impossible.

Many people who call in for advice about forming plastic or chocolate mold-making in particular, have heard me go on and on about the horse shoe chocolate mold. Well, here it is:

 

Yes, that is a genuine iron horse shoe, from a very generous horse ranch lady! I’m showing this because this was before I knew about the nice feature of a flat area for scraping, around a chocolate mold. The guys I made this for are full-time chocolate makers and they said, no problem. So there you have it—your decision. I included both approaches because some of it may be useful to someone.

The “showstopper” for me was what I called The Big Box. This was a challenge from an acquaintance who wanted to see if my tables could make a sun-shade for a video-assist monitor. He told me the specs, I didn’t know if it was possible. I was sure curious. So I ordered up some .125” (1/8”) styrene and built this enormous box.

Big box

Pretty imposing. Almost 7” tall. The bottom is around 10×6”. This is the experiment that showed me the thermoset plastic corners could not do a lot of these. The .125” plastic needed to stay in the oven for 12-15 minutes! The shots were okay, around the third one, I got it down to the table. With each shot I raised the box up a little more—there was a wicked web forming at all 4 corners. By raising the box, I got the webs to form off the part I needed. The corners got wobbly between the 3rd and 4th shots. Because of the clamps on the sides, one could pick it up and place it. But that was not for the faint of heart.

Anyone on warmplastic.com could have seen this pic:

 

big box

 

In the meanwhile, I would like to show some more tips to those who will be vacuum forming without me!

I named my largest table The Zeppelin Master before seeing if it would work to form a Zeppelin! So I made a quick carving from the “pink stuff” and yep, it worked. A bonus was that it turns out this stuff is porous. So the vacuum pulled through the material. If I was going to finish the pink stuff, I would use vinyl wall spackle and finish it to whatever degree I wished. One can even carve into and sculpt the stuff. If I was making a rough-and-ready shape, I would simply take this form, punch some holes around this and make a second form over it. Much smoother.

 

Can ZM Form Z_005

 

Above is The Kingston Vacuum Works’ greatest failure! The low-brow cineasts among you might recognize Dr. Evil’s intercom/minion dispatcher. I made one for an old friend and great fan of Austin Powers International Man of Mystery. But there was this huge buck left over and I decided to make a kit. Worried about infringement troubles from the movie company, I called it something else, something clever, Professor Bad’s Blinkie Box of Terror. In retrospect, I can understand why no one could find it. Positing they were looking, of course. Didn’t sell a single one!

To demonstrate the need for improving one’s pattern—the sharp-eyed may notice that the pic on the left has the pattern simply lifted up from the table—note the gap around the pattern. That turned out to work poorly. A phenomenon called “webbing” happens under obscure circumstances that have something to do with how much you ask the plastic to stretch and where intersecting planes meet. But the webbing was ferocious. I hit upon the idea of “giving the plastic somewhere to go.” On the right, you can make out that the pattern sits on top of a short pedestal with angled sides.

Some of you may now be able to recognize Dr. Evil’s “annunciator!”:

No one said making a vac-formed model was easy. Especially the prototype!

Fedoratron.com is still open and intends to be for a long time! There are several new kits that are close to being finished. Let me entice anyone who’s gotten this far:

Brass window patterns for the 1:537 and 1:1000 Klingon D-7, shown here is the paper test:

D7 Tease 1

For the K-7 Space Dock kit:

K7 Tease 1

Brass window patterns, copied as faithfully from the shooting model that was copied by legendary modeler Greg Jein and used in Deep Space 9 Trials And Tribbleations. I was considering re-doing the entire “ice cream cone” shape with curved sides. But that was too much. This is pretty good.

On top of this goes a light-up beacon that looks like the one on the TV. Not the kit part, which looks like a stick shift:

K7 Old n New Beacon TeaseDid I mention it lights up?

K7 Beacon Test Tease

A whole new shuttle bay, made with lighting in mind (and tiny TOS shuttles too):

K7 Tease 2

Get out your razor saws and putty! A replacement for that oddball lump where this is supposed to be:

K7 Tease 3

Still got your 12” Polar Lights Jupiter II? Afraid to light it? Here’s your fusion Core:

12 J2 Fus Cor Tease

fedoratron.com

Lighting and more for extraordinary modelers

Anna The Cleaning Lady

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Anna

Anna The Cleaning Lady cleaning up after us slobs. This is my only picture of her and I had to sneak it! As soon as she caught sight of my camera Anna would raise up her broom quite menacingly!

Anna The Cleaning Lady! She came with the building.  The secret weapon of the Marvel Bullpen. Anna was Polish. Within two words out of her mouth one could tell; she spoke with a thick, wonderful Polish accent. Anna seemd to take care of a major part of the building, which included both of Marvel’s floors at 575 Madison. Her white hair was pulled back into a tight, industrial bun. She was perhaps 5 foot tall. Anna seemed to have some trouble with her legs. She walked with more than a shuffle but less of a stride. Though she never mentioned any pain.

Since us Bullpenners would often work after hours, we saw quite a bit of Anna. She tried to wait for us to leave, but many times we out-stayed her.

 Around 5:30 every work day, Anna would appear. Dressed in an anonymous baby-blue work uniform, pushing her cart and broom, she would begin my throwing open every door in the office! Then she would disappear for an hour. Eventually, she would bustle around, easily whipping full garbage cans up and into her larger roll-around bin. A trick of the trade would be, since we generally had paper trash, all she had to do was dump the paper and leave the plastic liner in place– done! She could go several days before she needed to replace a torn bag.

Anna once went on a notable vacation, visiting Reykevic, Iceland. How she settled on Reykevic, one can only speculate. All the warm, cozy places already seen and bored by? Of note was that particular year, 1980 or 81, there was a huge volcanic eruption that we all suddenly paid attention to. Anna was there! News reports of layers of ash everywhere sounded dangerous. But, at the end of two weeks, Anna came bustling in as usual. She had a rather large open wound on her forehead, no dressing of any kind that I remember. It was scabbing up nicely. She had been beaned by a volcanic ember! Didn’t seem fazed by it at all. Reykavic was a very beautiful place, even with snow and volcanic ash all over the place!

Editor (B&W line, originator of EPIC Magazine and chief wrangler of Weird World) Rick Marschall once struck up an after-hours conversation with Anna. Rick, interested in all-things Germanic, discovered that Anna had been a young girl when the Germans “annexed” Poland. She well remembered seeing Hitler roll through her town. “Addie” she referred to him as. Suddenly, I recall, her quick and vivid blue eyes flashed with something I’d not seen in them or her before. Anger. It was a fascinating moment. Anna was the very essence of cool and collected.

The only other time she got visibly angered was at me. My “stat camera” area of Marvel was about as far away from the nicer, business end of the office as you could get. So I felt rather apart from most norms of office behavior. I had taken to wearing my sneakers loose, with untied shoelaces. I also had taken to whipping my sneaker at a target on the wall– well, one had to be prepared, right? Well, one shot took off at a bad angle and I knocked a hole through a fairly prominent wall. Near an exit, hard not to miss it. Anna came in with her pushcart and usual regal dignity, caught sight of the hole and turned on me like a veritable mad dog. She pointed her finger at me! Making “Ah!” noises and “You!”

Mercifully, she could not really get up much of a head of steam. I evaded her easily. Did I mention that she had a stout broom that she weilded like a cavalry officer’s sword? She blamed me for the hole, even before I had a chance to tell her all the perfect lies about it that I had conjured up that afternoon. I was outraged that she would leap to that conclusion. I stuck to my guns, insisting that I had nothing to do with it. Hinting that Robbie– my next-door neighbor who ran a similar stat camera– had slipped on some chemistry, which she dismisseded with a snort. I went over to the hole and pointed out how shoddy the work was. Anything could have done it– not my shoe. That this bit of sheet rock was hanging on by a scrap of paper like a hinge. I even pulled it right back out with a pen, so that it almost fit back in the hole it came out of. Looked pretty good, I thought. Anna did not.

 

It was harder saying goodbye for the last time than I would have thought. Friday night, the weekend before we all trucked ourselves down to our new digs (April, 1982). The last three: Robbie Carosella, Jack Morelli–youthful Bullpen letterer– and myself were yakking after hours talking of the horrors we were expecting downtown (the move was from 57th Street down to 27-28th Street). We left and made our way out, looking for Anna. We found her near the Marvel bathrooms, which were in a little hall near the mailroom. We three were inarticulate, knowing this would be the final time we would see her. As it turned out this was her “last day” too– something about the building contract changing where she was working. She said she was going to turn in her equipment and be done with it. I asked if I could break her broom over my knee; she was quite happy to hand it over. Again those blue eyes flashed, but strangely they were tearing up a little too. We hugged and she told us boys to be good and she pointed at me with a grin.

 

One last note: Jim Shooter, of Polish extraction himself, tried to hire Anna down at the new offices. Jim being a high muckity-muck, he could discover things like how to get in touch with her. I heard she came in for a meeting with Jim. This gig was just for us, if she was interested. I heard her high-pitched voice and nipped in to say a big hi. There she was in street clothes; I realized I had never seen her out of uniform. She thought the offer was very nice, but she wanted to retire. And who could blame her? She had lots more places to adventure off to . . .

Christopher Priest aka: James Owsley

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Owsley looks tough

James Owsley around 1982

James Owsley has changed his name to Christopher Priest. The reasons are unimportant for this rememberance; I really don’t know them. The Owsley I knew was the energetic and intelligent, multi-talented young guy I spent a lot of after-hours time with. Owsley started at Marvel, working with Paul Laiken who was the editor of Crazy Magazine when I came on-staff and before Larry Hama took over. For those who don’t know, Crazy was one of Marvel’s typical “trailing edge” humor efforts, patterned after Mad Magazine. Whatever Larry brought to Crazy is not important here; what he kept was James Owsley. When I arrived at Marvel, the Crazy working area was a small office only a couple of doors down from my stat room. (Later, the typesetting computer room was only a door down from that room. All rather cozy.)

One of the most impressive things about Owsley is that he attended a trade school and he learned a skill. Alas, it was using a Linotype Machine– generating “hot type” for newspapers. In what must have seemed like hours after his graduation from that process, hot type gave way to cold type. I know; sounds funny. Basically, hot type is made in a nutty and gigantic contraption that gives you a poured metal version of a single line of a sentence on a newspaper page. Yep, made out of molten lead! Cold type is the result of a computer assisted photographic process. Which brings me to how Jim and I became chummy. Jim wanted to learn to use the typesetting machine. I am not certain, but it was probably Carl Gafford, the original typesetting machine operator, who taught him the basics. Since there were actually two, wildly different typesetting machines and Gaff decided to leave at one point, Jim and I basically taught ourselves the newer machine. (Along with Marion Stensgard, the second typesetter! But that’s a longer story.)

The new machine was made by Merganthaller Linotype– the same German company who had made Owsley’s mechanical Nemisis. We learned together, because we both knew the principles of what the machines could do. The machine itself was so new, the operator’s manual had not been translated from the German yet!

Owsley saw learning the machine as a way to quickly set type for any Crazy projects that needed doing. Since everything was always late, being able to slip in after hours and do what needed to be done, was a good thing. A special note to Crazy fans out there: look over the indicias carefully. If you know when Owsley and cold type coincided in time, then was when Jim started writing slightly “off” indicias. I haven’t seen them since– they seemed mighty funny at 8 or 9PM. Since Jim worked for Larry, sometimes the “black & white” Conans or King Kulls would get the same treatment. It was also a source of freelance money, never a bad thing at Marvel.

Of note was that Jim had scrimped and saved to make a record album of his own original music featuring himself as lead vocalist. This was around late 1981. Very nicely, he asked me to take some pictures of a recording session and the pic for the album cover (shown below, Jim hanging on to the entry of 575 Madison! Mid-morning, one day, I had my camera in hand, he threw on his suit and we ran downstairs to shoot that shot, as he set it up!). I also pasted up the entire album cover. He insisted I charge him! Usually us Bullpenners all worked as one back then. But Jim was adamant. I also know that he had Larry Hama, a musician as well, in for a session to lay down some tracks.

Time goes by. Owsley is made an editor of the Spider line of books. Great stuff. Now I’m going to tell this story and try to apologize at the same time. I am apologizing for the fact that this took place during the time when I tried to be taken more seriously. I used to be all over the place, taking pictures of people doing all manner of things. When I was moving up, from assistant editor to Special Projects Editor, I was trying to be more business-like. And so, I did not take pictures of:

Owsley’s office! Owsley infuriated pretty much everybody at Marvel by setting a style that was remarkable and forward-thinking. But who knew at the time? Jim spent his own money to buy the first Editorial Computer at Marvel. I kid you not! Jim was the guy. Now Marvel itself had been involved with the infamously-named Wang computer system– which was a really simple-minded word-processor– deeply flawed in that it followed a series of document templates and nothing else. But that was gone by then. Now Jim comes along with the original Macintosh desktop computer! Yes, what we now call the Mac Classic. This was, uh, 1983? Of course, he had to get his own printer. Secondarily infuriating was that he then moved in his own office furniture. A sleek glass desktop supported by a chrome steel frame. Amusingly, for anyone visiting, he had chairs more akin to beach use than office– with clicky, adjustable backs and all.

But the most enraging single thing he did, in his all-new office was: get an answering machine. No small thing, either. Back then they were relatively new and quite large, using cassette tapes for out-going and received messages. They were attached to the very new, quite elaborate new phone system that Marvel had just installed. Those birth-struggles were long and hard. There went Owsley, just ramming his answering machine between the wall socket and the new phone. But it worked.

Amazing. One must know that no one had ever done this before. Very few people had bubbled up through the pipes of good old Marvel and not run around stealing office furniture. Which, in fact, Jim and I would often do– working after-hours has its perks! Even “outside” editors would come in, sniff gingerly at the provided office equipment, perhaps make a request or two for a chair. But that’s it. Jim couldn’t have been more non-plussed or seemingly even able to detect the furor around him. I felt a little outrage, more because I didn’t have the wherewithall to rent office furniture! But I sidled up to Jim to ask, why the answering machines? His response was typically intelligent. People would call in at any time of the day, Jim calmly observed, interrupting whatever it was he was doing. This way, he would call back when he felt best able to focus on the caller. Of course, it sounds rather appropriate now. But back then, Marvel and Bedlam had much in common. The three-ring circus was never ending and irritating phone calls were the lesser of office-evils.

A word should be said about Owsley’s assistants. I have no idea of how Veronica Lawler– forever Ronnie thereafter– found her way to applying as Jim’s assistant. I must have asked, now forgotten. But there she was, a beautiful child; for, I believe she was 20 (I think younger than that, but memories… ). I mean, she was dressed in her school-girl uniform! I did have the sense to crack out my camera for her; seeing one of those pictures recently, Ronnie cracked, “Who the hell was that kid?” Ronnie did her Yeoman duty and did the rare act of moving from assistant editor into production. I was lucky enough to nab her when it came time to fill out my team at Special Projects. Not long after that, sweet Ron connected with Mike Carlin, Editor, seriously enough for a marriage! They even honeymooned with Don Ho! As time and tide would have it, they got divorced and both are now happily re-married! Ronnie is a wildly talented illustrator; an early book of hers is “I Dream To Come To America” a book about emigrants and Ellis Island.

After Ronnie moved to the Bullpen, Owsley needed a new assistant and found– in a similarly mysterious manner– Adam Blaustein. Adam was a compact young fellow but endowed with a vastly deep voice. Such a good voice, that he was a voice artist. The best examples of that were I recall him trying out for the voice of Mr. Magoo, when that was being modernized. The most amazing pop-culture voice that he did make his own: Mewtoo of Pokemon fame! The only character of that string of oddness that spoke words and sentences; the rest of the hundreds only said their own names. Hearing that voice in the theater (with my Pokemon fan son) allowed me to “hear” Adam doing his Brooklyn accent!  Adam moved on from Marvel after I did, so I knew little of what he was up to. But the grapevine was still in place and he was working over at DC for a while. Adam struggled with gender identity, new to the country in the late 1980s and early 90s, the most visible sign was that he changed his name to Addie Blaustein (in the Pokemon movies credits). Sadly, he passed away much, much too young a short while ago.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that James Owsley is the first African-American editor at Marvel Comics.  I find it hard to believe that he was the first Black comic-book editor, but in the “big” houses; pretty sure.

After I had mustered out of Marvel, I lost contact with a lot of Marvelites and comic people; Jim as well. I was visiting some chums at DC and there he was, with an office and all (–a much more staid but discretely-lighted office!). He had been tapped by Dwayne McDuffy, the head of DC’s imprimatur line of African-American oriented books, Milestone, to edit books. Jim was busy but graciously invited me in and we chatted for a short while. I asked him about the rumor that he had been a bus driver for a while. I was frankly curious about being on a high at Marvel, getting the boot and then coming back “across the street” so to speak– working at DC. He answered in that thoughtful and direct way of his. That his time as a bus driver was simply great! You do your route, at the end of the day you park the bus, hand in the keys and your’e done! Nothing like comics. Which is endless.

Some time after that, I was perusing the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble and spotted a book by ”Christopher Priest.” I knew that was Jim. It was a hardcover book “Green Lantern.” I was delighted for my old comrade, looked about some more and left. As I hit the street, I was struck by a vivid memory. Back in the “lounge” area of my old stat area, Jim and I were winding down from the regular flurry of day-to-day stuff and we were talking about “them.” The competition, DC. I said I had not read much, preferred Batman to Superman, had dipped a toe in Green Lantern, but didn’t quite see it. Jim then went on to give a perfect precis of the GL mythos, down to the little blue, big-headed Oas, the Battery and The Corp and finishing up with a recitation of  the Green Lantern oath, “In brightest day…” Rather impassioned; it’s different when a believer says it. Comics can be like that.

 

 

Ows Copies

Owsley using Marvel’s first plain paper xerographic process copier. Sometime in 1980.

Hollis Stone

James Owsley outside of Marvel’s building on Madison Avenue.

Owsley as a Crazy Magazine character

Owsley posing as a doctor-like person to appear in one of Crazy Magazine’s ads. Jim was very near-sighted and before he got contacts, his eyes were reduced to the size of pin-points!

James Owsley

Taken at the same time as the above! A world of difference– this is the Owsley I remember. The big-eyed one.

A Few Words About This Picture…

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Bullpen of 1980!

Mark Rogan operating the Pos One System photostat camera. C. 1980.

When I entered Marvel Comics, roughly in late 1978, Mark Rogan was there to “show me the ropes.” I had used an old fashioned monstrous photostat camera and these Pos One cameras were little wind-up toys in comparison. A word about historical technology: Photostat. Before electrostatic photocopying (ahem… Xerography) became wide-spread, photostats were the only way to enlarge or shrink a piece of art or a photograph. Yes, you could use an “overhead projector” or Lucy Machine and re-draw things by hand– but this was the 70s Man! The Pos One System was a compact– very compact– stat camera. It was small enough to fit through doorways and could roll around on the floor. Mark’s hands were inside the part of the camera where you could place light-sensitive paper. There was a little light-tight paper safe in there as well. The image plane where artwork image was focused was the only part of the camera that didn’t move. Everything else did.

You can see the upright black shape, the copy board, which was what held the artwork. There are some very bright lights that were on arms that moved in and out so as to evenly illuminate the copy board. Not so easy to see is the lens, which was moved along with the light bars. All motor driven and fun to operate. There was a very nice chemical processing lab– four chambers filled with different chemistry that needed to be fussed with every day. (A black&white “monobath” chemistry for those that care!) Dozens of little rollers moved the paper through the compact labyrinth in about 3 minutes. Finally there was a fan that blew hot air over the prints, on top of the machine. Very neat.

Marvel used the stat cameras for a lot of things. Making full-sized copies of proof rolls of entire past comics for foreign markets. Making art corrections– the use of durable photostat paper meant you could cut it, rubber cement it, add black ink or White-Out correction paint to it. Most logos were copies of an original, same for cover copy and those floating heads on covers that heralded who was going to appear within the comic. Page numbers! Typeset once, copied many, many times. “Special effects” when an image needed to be copied or shrunk so as to appear several times or made a “negative” or artwork copied on clear “acetate.” All done by the versatile Mark and his Pos One.

Mark ran one of three machines that Marvel had in use. Stu Shwartsberg ran a literal antique stat camera, probably made just after WWII (Stu and his machine, had been at various Marvel office locations as far back as I can remember; and I had been a messenger boy, taking stuff to Marvel and parent company, Magazine Management, at age 13-14) and I ran a machine identical to Mark’s but for the “Black & White” and “British” Departments. Mark was all Bullpen.

Mark was a very nice co-worker, worldly and light-hearted. He knew “things” like why one should invest in a leased automobile. If you thanked him for something, his return catch phrase was, “Don’t thank me; thank God for making me so good.” For some reason, that didn’t get worn out. Mark invented “stat soup” because we were so poor on the day before payday, we would make a sandwich of old comic books and stats, with a little stat soup on the side. Mark moved on from the Stat Room, to the Bullpen proper. He did what were called “paste-ups and mechanicals.” When the Letters Collumns needed to be put together, or a house ad– he gathered materials, had myself or the “new guy” (Robbie Carosella) make some stats and he would slam it all down with old-style and deadly rubber cement!

Then, about mid-1981 to my crumbling memory, Mark departed altogether to a huge art department in some magical, high-paying advertising agency, he started as a lowly rubber cement pick-up maker. Within a year, he was barking orders and demanding fealty. Now he owns and runs a fabulous, 1000-person office, in the digital age doing wondrous things. (Alright, I don’t remember what he does now, but it has something to do with print; maybe magazines– it’s been a while…)

George Roussos Artist, Photographer, Friend and Colleague

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A few words about George Roussos. The unusual thing one noticed about George was that he dressed identically every day. Charcoal grey suit, white shirt and a modestly colored tie– cycling between dark blue with red diagonals and burgundy with dark blue diagonals. Every day! At marvel Comics– the staff colorist! And never spilled a drop of watercolor on his shirt!

He carried a very neat, even spiffy attache case. After we got to know each other a bit better, I asked him about his form of dress. His answer was revealing. He commuted to work on the Long Island Rail Road. Dressed as he did, he slipped in and out of the railroad cars blending in like a pigeon mingling in a crowd of pigeons. Whenever asked about what he did, he replied, “I’m in publishing.” George told me he never wished to stand out or call attention to himself.

At 575 Madison, George and I were only a few doors apart. I soon learned of his photographic endeavors. The man processed his own color film, no mean feat. He had made his own darkroom and we swapped techniques and tips a lot. I had been introduced to fast film and print-making from nightclub darkroom men. George was a strictly by-the-book scientist. But on lenses we agreed that you couldn’t have enough of them. I was a Nikon man, George a Canon. I liked Kodak film, George liked Agfa. My quest was wider and wider lenses, his was higher precision. Eventually I wore him down. He got a $700 17mm wide-angle lens. I wouldn’t say George was cheap, but let’s

just say he may still have had his third or fourth nickel! I had explained that wide lenses had distortion when you started fooling around with them. If you set them level and square to, say, the lines of a room, they merely took in more. George was passionate about documenting a private residence on a nature preserve out on Long Island. We usually had new things to talk about every Monday morning as he had spent time photographing something at the residence that weekend. One day after the purchase of the wide lens he came in to my office and proudly showed me a shot of a hand-carved newel post taken from the stair side, maybe only 2-3 feet away. Straight and precise, the shot was artfully printed showing all the curves with highlights. Lovely. Of course he invited me out to see his laboratory/darkroom workshop but I was not smart enough to manage that.

George is gone now. Whenever I read old interviews with him, he tells stories I now wish he’d told me. But the one that I was told and have not seen elsewhere (yet) is that he was the inker on Bob Kane’s first Batman comic book and that it was he who who decided to make the night sky solid black around the Moon on page 1. That’s quite a step back in time; 1938 I believe. No one really knew how old George was when he died. He was an orphan since very young. He seemed to have found a family– of sorts– in comics. To be sure, never

replacing his own family. Like many of us though, the small universe of comics has its own language and mores– when you’re in it, it’s like nowhere else. His happiest time in his office as staff colorist was when John Tartaglione was the staff correction artist, in with him.

George Photog 2

I can’t imagine what George was looking so satisfied about! What is not well-known about George Roussos is that he was a conservationist. In particular was a tract of private property out on Long Island, where he lived, that he was documenting. He worked on an elaborate brochure for several years!

575 Mad 35PC fix

This is what George and I were looking at! A very nice, shabby genteel office building. 57th Street was to the immediate left, the corner led down 56th Street (where I lived, for the shortest, sweetest commute known to Man!). You can see my Nikon 35PC lens is fairly wide– I had wanted the 28PC but it was too expensive– and can just straighten out the building. Marvel’s offices were on the 6th and 9th Floors. The Bullpen was on 6.

George Roussos tries out a new camera lens, 1979.

George Roussos was one of Marvel Comics’ great talents. We shared a common interest in photography. George and I often talked lenses and methods. I had purchased a Nikon 35PC lens, with the ability to add distortion to an image that would “correct” perspective, or straighten out converging image lines. George had recently bought a 17mm lens, a very wide angle lens. He was concerned about the look of wide-angle lens’ distortion. So out we went to take pictures of 575 Madison! Across Madison Ave was the recently demolished IBM Building. You can just see that George is holding his camera body vertically, not tilting upward. This was to see how much coverage he got.

 

Looking very relaxed, George Roussos

George, here pictured at 387 Park Ave South– the “new” offices– looking very relaxed. I visited the Marvel Bullpen the day of their moving back up to 10, from where they languished, on 4, while they rebuilt the whole place. I am using a rented super-wide 15mm lens, which makes George look like Egghead. George intensely disliked being out in the middle of the Bullpen floor, in fact at a corner of heavy traffic. He had had his own office for most of his time at Marvel. But, as he reminded me at the time, he was just keeping his head down. This was late 1992, of note was the Dr. Marten’s standard 36 bottle coloring set, filled with Luma Color watercolors. Coloring correction was all done by hand. Corrections were one thing, George was often asked to do entire covers as part of the job. I particularly like seeing George as relaxed as I’d ever seen him. Also of note: his very casual slacks!

March, 1979 Bullpen Random

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The Marvel Bullpen, March, 1979. 575 Madison Ave, NYC– between 56th and 57th Streets. Marvel had much of the floor, the stat rooms, storage closets and “Stan’s Closet” were all in the back end of the space. Fellow Stat Man Robbie Carosella and I were located right next to the Service Elevator. These shots were taken over a period of time. By which I mean that the film was usually left in the camera for a while. I would try to space out my use of photographic supplies because I was a poor but hard-working Stat Man. So, I would save them up and process the film myself in Marvel’s slop sink. There was a supply closet that was nearly totally dark and a good place to load a film developing tank. I could do that and wander out to the sink to run chemistry in and fool around with the sink. There was also an old office desk in that closet– on it I set up print developing trays and an enlarger. Add some safe-lights and Marvel Photographic Services was on the job.

 

Well… sometimes the negs were spotty. And sometimes, I must not have agitated the chemistry enough because there were spots of undeveloped film, or too heavy a negative– just enough for me to blame Marvel’s water! I am guessing Marvel’s tap water was pretty hard. I also didn’t know to pre-wet the film and so there are some spots here and there, where air bubbles clung for some of the process. So things can look a little rough here and there. I was a pretty good printer, so I felt I could fix any real problems. But Photoshop is a lot drier to use!
 

One reason I was taking pictures was to have them used in a Marvel Calendar. I got several shots in a 1979 Calendar (or was it 1980?) but they seemed to have done away with that, I never saw another actual hang-on-the-wall calendar. So this is just me, walking around taking “grab shots.” A random day.

Click to view larger version of the photos.

 

 

Click to view larger version of the photos.

All these photos are © by Eliot R. Brown. Don’t copy them and don’t use them. Written permission may be granted. Ask.

 

Friday April 18, 1982 The Marvel Wack-Offs!

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Mark Gruenwald, boyish Marvel Comics Editor, was always looking for slightly risque activities or pranks. Someone must’ve given him a paddle-ball as a gag-gift. That was all it took– the Marvel Bullpen was never the same!  After the traditional stagger to the bank to cash our paychecks, we reassembled to move furniture around to make room for the Only Annual Wack-Offs!

Who could get three wacks in a row? The results will surprise you! Okay, maybe not you, but it sure surprised us. Mark went to the trouble of giving each of us personalized paddles! 

These two rolls begin as many did– just a roll of film in the camera. I would walk around and take pictures of my friends and colleagues doing whatever we did. For example, this roll starts off with us cashing our paychecks in the bank.

What is hard to relate about this entry is that this Friday was the very day of the weekend that Marvel moved its offices from 575 Madison down to 387 Park Avenue South! A testament to the hard work of Bernie Shacktman, an old hand from Marvel’s “Magazine Management” days, we moved down to nearly complete facilities. That Monday morning, we simply opened up our boxes, picked up the still-tacky artwork and finished the paste-ups, made the lettering correction or typeset an indecia!

Click on any photo to see a larger version.

 

 

Click on any photo above to see a larger version.

All these photos are © by Eliot R. Brown. Don’t copy them and don’t use them. Written permission may be granted. Ask.

Standard Disclaimer: I had a strong desire to become a photo-journalist. Not sure why– but I loved Life Magazine, National Geographic and Playboy. But I worked in the most interesting playpen a fellah could ever want, The Marvel Comics Bullpen. These pictures are presented, as much as legal and societal mores allow, “as is.” This means, since I often processed the film myself, they aren’t that good. But this was the way it was… These images are presented, as much as possible, as they were taken. They represent a timeline of sorts. Sometimes minute by minute, hour by hour or even week to week!

Misc DC Comics Index

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Iron Manual

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