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Saturday, May 19, 2018

THE "OFFICIAL" MARVEL COMICS ROY THOMAS APPRECIATION PRINT


THE "OFFICIAL" MARVEL COMICS 
ROY THOMAS APPRECIATION PRINT
 

BY
"RASCALLY" ROY THOMAS
(cautiously edited by John "The Mego Stretch Hulk" Cimino)

My pal John Cimino came up with this notion about a colored drawing that would depict me with most of the Marvel heroes (and a couple of villains) with whose creation I'd been associated.  I really liked that idea, because I'd always loved those oft-reproduced drawings of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Romita, Herb Trimpe, et al., sitting at a drawing board with "their" heroes swirling about them... and I'd even written a panel like that for Stan Lee when I wrote a story for the STAN LEE MEETS... series a few years back.  John engaged a talented young artist named Joe St. Pierre to do the drawing, and it turned out beautifully, with Yours Truly sitting at a typewriter and all these characters coming (at least partly) out of my head.  Then, with the help of Brian Overton, John got Marvel's okay--indeed, Marvel kindly handled the printing of the posters--to sell the posters, with a proportion of the money going to the Hero Initiative, the comic book industry's own charity, and we were off and running. 

When John released the print to the masses, he told me to write a little something to advertise it.  This is what I came up with:

"I couldn't be happier or prouder! For the first time ever, I have a color print ready for sale that features a pandemonious panoply of some of the greatest heroes and villains I was privileged to write over the years for Marvel Comics--some I co-created, others I merely helped develop. So, next time you see me at a comics convention, my buddy John Cimino and I will have these available for purchase, and I'd be happy to sign it for you, with a percentage of the money going to the comics' own Hero Initiative charity. Talk about win-win!"


My buddy John Cimino is making sure I spell my name correctly as I sign a print for some lucky fan.

Here's a list of all the characters that made the cut onto the print, and how I, along with some of the best comic book writers and artists ever, came up with them.

Wolverine - I came up with the name Wolverine because I wanted to do a
Canadian hero/villain and wanted the name of an animal that lived in
Canada.  I told Len Wein that he should be, like the beast itself, both
short and very fierce/bad-tempered.  Len sometimes forgot that I'd given
him those latter two qualities for the character, but that in no way
makes Len less of the co-creator of Wolverine.  The original look of the
hero was designed by John Romita, and it was Herb Trimpe who first drew
him in THE INCREDIBLE HULK.  I consider the four of us to be the co-creator
of Wolverine, and I regret that Herb wasn't listed as a co-creator in
the "Logan" movie.  Artist Dave Cockrum may or may not have shown me his
notion of a character called the Wolverine, one of a number of Legion of
Super-Heroes types he'd created... I don't recall... but I already knew
what a wolverine was.  If I had taken the name from Dave, then I
wouldn't have been debating in my mind for a short time, before the
meeting with Len Wein, about whether to call the hero Wolverine or
Badger.  I decided on "Wolverine" because that sounded fiercer than
"Badger," a word that has the connotation of "to annoy," while
"wolverine" sounds a bit like a wolf.  In fact, John Romita has said
that when assigned to design the character, he thought a wolverine was a
female wolf.  I chose Len because he was a good writer, but if Len had
preferred not to do so, there would've still been a Marvel Wolverine who
was Canadian, short, and vile-tempered... but he would've lacked Len's
particular virtues.  I presume it was Romita who came up with the
claws...and others later (Len and Chris Claremont) who decided they and
his skeleton were made of Adamantium, the metal I'd made up for THE
AVENGERS earlier.

Warlock - based on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby character Him from FANTASTIC FOUR
- co-designed and co-re-created by Gil Kane, who designed the costume
with my input and who suggested he have the first name "Adam" to my
"Warlock"--the concept was partly a takeoff on Kirby's Fourth World, but
mainly a response to my love of the record album "Jesus Christ
Super-Star," before it became a Broadway musical and movie.

Killraven - in my basic concept for the Marvel sequel to H.G. Wells' WAR
OF THE WORLDS, inspired partly by Hunt Bowman in the PLANET COMICS
series "The Lost World" and co-created for Marvel by artist Neal Adams
and myself.  Named by Gerry Conway, who dialogued the first story.

Banshee - maybe the first villain I co-created for Marvel, a mutant from
X-MEN, first penciled by Werner Roth from my suggestion of his general
look as a slightly older mutant than the X-Men, Irish, flying,
sonic-powered, etc.

Sunfire - co-created with artist Don Heck for X-MEN; he designed the
character from my verbal suggestion of a costume that was an embodiment
of the imperial Japanese Rising Sun flag, as Japanese or Japanese-American.

Ghost Rider - basically the idea of Gary Friedrich, using the name of
M.E. and Marvel's western Ghost Rider.  I worked out the precise  look/design
of the character-- skull head with leather costume (loosely based on the black

leather outfit that Elvis wore in his 1968 comeback special)--with
artist Mike Ploog in a meeting which Gary didn't attend, but I can't say
whether Gary and I had ever discussed the look of the new character
before I talked to Ploog.  Gary was the initiator, however.

Starr the Slayer - a Conan/sword-and-sorcery type hero that I conceived
for an issue of CHAMBER OF DARKNESS, before Marvel had thought seriously
about licensing an S&S character.  I went to Barry Smith to be the
artist, and he fleshed out my story of a barbarian hero who was the main
character in prose stories written by a pulp-style author who wants to
kill him off, so that the barbarian comes into our world and slays the
author instead. Barry and I later decided to carry the wonderful  helmet
he designed for Starr, with the horns in front like a bull's instead of
on the side, over to the early issues of CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

Tiger Shark - enemy of SUB-MARINER.  John Buscema designed him from my
general description of a sharp-toothed guy with a fin on his costume. 
As I recall, after John had penciled the first story, Stan had him alter
the fin so that it was far larger and extended down his back.

Luke Cage, aka Power Man - In 1972 Stan Lee decided it was time Marvel
had an entire comic devoted to an African-American hero, so he conferred
with me and (perhaps at the same time, or perhaps by a second meeting)
Archie Goodwin to create such a hero.  He wanted the character to be an
escaped, naturally innocent convict who tried to make super-heroing pay
(unusual for the day) and who wore a rather untypical super-hero
costume.  John Romita basically designed the costume, with a bit of
kibitzing from me, but I don't recall any specific thing that I may have
suggested be part of the costume.  My own contributions were the name
"Cage" (which I realized later I'd seen in a list of potential character
names Gil Kane had shown me some time before).  It was later that I
decided he should have a super-hero name, and gave him that of a
previous villain, Power Man.

Thundra - a 7-foot Amazon type that I conceived as an homage of sorts to
characters like Kirby's Big Barda in his Fourth World by DC Comics.  I
asked John Buscema to give her a bandolier around her torso because a number of
women's-lib types were wearing them (sometimes with real bullets) in
photos in newspapers and magazines.  The name Thundra, besides coming
from "thunder," was probably inspired in part by Th'unda, the name of a
jungle hero first drawn by Frank Frazetta and written by Gardner Fox.

Carol Danvers, now Captain Marvel - When I took over the new Captain
Marvel series in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES with his second story.  I
don't recall if Stan asked me to make up a female head of security for
The Cape or if it was my own idea.  I named her, although I don't think
the name "Carol" appears until an issue or two later.  I wrote the first
few stories in which she appeared, but of course others turned her into
first Ms. Marvel, then Captain Marvel... and another heroine in between
called Binary.  I may have been subconsciously influenced in Carol's last name
by that of Supergirl's secret ID... but then, Danvers is a real name,
not a made-up one, so it may just be a coincidence, and certainly
Supergirl had no influence on Carol Danvers as a character.

Stingray - Needed a villain for SUB-MARINER, and wanted an underwater
type (just like others I devised, like Tiger Shark and Orka the Human
Killer Whale and Commander Kraken) who created a costume for his sub-sea
life.  I think Marie Severin designed the character pretty much on her own.

Tigra the Werewoman - a tricky one.  I have this vague memory that that
idea and name were mine, but even if they were, it was Tony Isabella and
the artist who did all the work of changing the former Cat into a new
and more werewolf-oriented character. Tony told me he doesn't recall
if he or I came up with the precise name and concept.  Either way, Tony
did the stories and development, with the artist (Don Perlin?), and is
at the very least the co-creator of Tigra, along with the artist.

Spitfire - my concept of a WWII English character, though except for
maybe a general discussion the costume was designed by Frank Robbins for
THE INVADERS.  I wanted a vaguely fiery feel to her, since she got her
powers from the Human Torch.

Union Jack - I knew just what I wanted this WWI and WWII English hero to
look like--a walking Union Jack flag--so I drew that costume on one of
the photocopies or stats of the character design sheet that John Romita
had come up with for such purposes.  Frank Robbins, and then Kirby on
the cover, caught that feeling perfectly in THE INVADERS.  Wish I'd
saved my original "drawing."

Valkyrie - I wanted a sort of female Thor, but of course at first I just
made her a disguise of the Enchantress in THE AVENGERS.  I left the look
mostly to John Buscema, though I may have said I wanted her to be blonde. 
Dissatisfied with that first story, I made up a second (visually identical) Valkyrie in THE

INCREDIBLE HULK (that was in issue #142 and "Scrapper 142" was the nickname given
to the Valkyrie in the THOR: RAGNAROK movie), as the alternate identity of a
modern-day woman.  When Steve Englehart took over THE DEFENDERS, for some
reason he gave the Valkyrie persona a third alternative identity, another
modern woman.

Doc Samson - I wanted a super-powered human with green hair to fight THE
INCREDIBLE HULK, and I showed Herb Trimpe copies of the "Captain
Tootsie" comic strip ads that ran in 1940s comics, with a hero designed
originally by Fawcett Captain Marvel co-creator C.C. Beck.  I had Herb
add the lightning bolt and different boots in honor of that CM, but the
basic look in Captain Tootsie, as Herb remembered and often stated.  His
real name was Leonard Samson... I presume he's the "Leonard" who's in
the second HULK movie, and might have joined in the action if there'd
been a third solo HULK film.

Iron Fist - My wife Jeanie and I went to see our first (?) kung fu
movie... I forget the name just now... and it contained a "ceremony of
the iron fist."  I decided that, in spite of Marvel already having an
Iron Man, Iron Fist would be a good name and concept for a Caucasian
kung fu super-hero... we already had Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, an
Asian who was basically the creation of Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. 
When Stan gave me a verbal approval to star him in a series, I contacted
Gil Kane and we worked out the costume and story.  I had Gil give him a
dragon brand on his chest, inspired by the one branded into Bullseye, a
great western character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.  At Gil's
urging, we took some story elements from Bill Everett's 1939 hero
Amazing-Man, which itself had borrowed heavily from James Hilton's novel
THE LOST HORIZON and the first movie made from it, which introduced
"Shangri-La" to the world.  I called our city "K'un-Lun," a city of the
gods in a book I had called CHINESE MYTHOLOGY.

Black Knight - he was a combination, visually, of the Black Knight that
Stan Lee and Joe Maneely made up in the mid-1950s, with the concept Stan
and Kirby had done as a villain of that name, complete with winged
horse, in THE AVENGERS.  There was also a bit of an homage in there to a
DC hero I'd liked in the 1940s, the Shining Knight.  I shouldn't have
named his horse Aragorn, though.  I wasn't even that great an admirer of
THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The Vision - I thought about bringing the old Simon and Kirby
Timely hero the Vision into THE AVENGERS, but when Stan finally told me
I could introduce a new character into the Avengers, as opposed to
bringing in Hercules or Black Panther or Black Widow, he didn't like the
Vision enough to approve that idea, and told me that he wanted the new
Avenger to be an android.  He didn't tell me why, and I never asked.  So
I introduced an android, but made him a modern Vision, with a costume I
asked John Buscema to alter a bit.  I suspect I suggested a cowl instead
of a bald head, although the jewel on his forehead (now so important in
the films) may have been either my idea or, I suspect, a design elements
tossed in by John.  I did ask him to give Vision a chest symbol--a
diamond--as a focal point, because he could make his body hard as
diamond.  I took that from the WWII comic hero Spy-Smasher.


Ultron - When I decided to make a self-aware robot the next of THE AVENGERS,
I sent John Buscema the image of a similar menace from a 1951 issue of the Fawcett 
comic CAPTAIN VIDEO, which was loosely based on an early TV show. That killer robot's
name was Machino.  I named him "Ultron"--which I thought at least was an improvement on
"the Ultroids," the meaningless robots I'd used in one of the first AVENGERS issues I had plotted.

Havok - Arnold Drake, when writing X-MEN briefly, gave Scott (Cyclops)
Summers a brother who might or might not be a mutant. When I was asked
by Stan to take over the next issue, I definitely made him a mutant. 
And when Neal Adams came aboard as artist, I asked Neal to design a
costume and I planned to call him Havok, from the Shakespearean quote in
JULIUS CAESAR:  "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!"  Neal came up
with a wonderful costume and added gimmick, in which the concentric
circles on his chest showed how much energy he was emitting, and got
larger as his power expenditure increased.

Hyperion - the first of the 4 members of the Squadron Sinister I
designed for THE AVENGERS, to be an evil counterpart of Superman, kind
of a parody/homage.  I took the name from the Greek sun god, by way of
the Shakespearean quote from HAMLET:  "...that was to this, Hyperion to
a satyr."  I made sure that every costume line on Hyperion was different
from those on Superman... boots, belt, length of sleeves, face mask,
etc.  And I gave him a cape that only attached to one shoulder, after
the look of a 1940s character called Dyna-Man in a Harry Chesler comic. 
(As revealed elsewhere, this initial takeoff on 4 members of DC's
Justice League was the result of writer Mike Friedrich suggesting to JLA
writer Denny O'Neil and me, at a party at my apartment, that each of us
find a way to slip the other's group into the comic he was writing.  A
year later, I made up the good-guy equivalent of the Squadron Sinister,
the better-known Squadron Supreme, with additional characters made up by
Len Wein and myself.)  Unlike any of the other characters on the Joe St.
Pierre drawing except Union Jack, I drew the costumes of all four of
these SS members on the Romita-designed character sheets and gave them
to artist Sal Buscema.

Dr. Specrtum - the Green Lantern type of the Squadron Sinister/Supreme,
with primary colors overlapping on his chest to form a white "oval." 
His belt/pants should probably have been black, or maybe blue to match
his mask, instead of green.  The Power Prism was a takeoff on GL's Power
Ring, of course.

The Whizzer - Squadron Sinister member named after 1940s Timely hero,
but with a different costume.

Nighthawk - fan Richard Kyle had once pulled a fandom hoax by making
fanzine-publishers Don and Maggie Thompson print a piece about an old
pulp magazine or some such thing called NIGHTHAWK... obviously supposed
to be a precursor of Batman.  So as a joke, I took that name (which had
later, but not relatedly, been a DC cowboy character) and made it the
name of the Batman homage in the Squadron.  Again, as with the preceding
three, I drew the costume.  I was really disgusted when the costume was
changed a few years later.  In fact, I feel that about the change in
all the Squadron Supreme costumes.  Mine were better... more
importantly, they were the originals.  Why can't all these geniuses just
make up new characters to go with the costumes in their heads?

Morbius, the Living Vampire - When Stan had to leave AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
for four issues, he wanted Gil Kane and me to create Marvel's first
vampire as a foe for Spidey, since the Comics Code had just been changed
to allow vampires and werewolves.  Gil and I were just going to bring in
Dracula (not yet a Marvel character), but Stan said he wanted more of a
super-villain.  I came up with the name Morbius (not remembering it had
been the name of the scientist Walter Pidgeon played in a beloved movie,
"Forbidden Planet"--but of course, I was thinking of the word "morbid"),
and instead of a real vampire, I wanted to do a man with a blood
disease, an idea I borrowed from a late-50s movie called simple "The
Vampire."  (Not "Atom-Age Vampire," as some think.)  Gil wonderfully
designed the look of the character, and we did borrow a bit from
DRACULA, especially in Morbius' origin and his sea voyage.  I wish he
were controlled by Marvel now, because he'd have made the perfect star
of one of the Marvel/Netflix shows.

Man-Thing - I'd already made up a Heap-type character called the Glob in THE 

INCREDIBLE HULK, and Swamp Thing was just a little in the future, when
Stan decided he wanted a monster-character called Man-Thing for SAVAGE
TALES #1.  I didn't like the name, since we already had the Thing... but
Stan was the boss.  We kicked around several ideas in brief, and the one
Stan decided he liked (probably his) was that of a man who's tainted by
a swamp to become a Man-Thing, in some sort of spy or crime story.  I
went off and fleshed out the idea into a synopsis that ran 2-3 pages
(it's been printed), and gave it to Gerry Conway to turn into a script
for artist Gray Morrow.  Whether Gerry wrote it Marvel-style or full
script, I don't recall... but he followed the synopsis, so that
Man-Thing has three writer co-creators... Stan, myself, and Gerry.  Plus
Gray as the artist, who was (as I wanted) inspired by the Heap in the
design of the character.

Werewolf by Night - When the Code allowed werewolves again, I knew Stan
would like Marvel to have one.  I made up a series I called "I,
Werewolf," which would be narrated by a teenage werewolf, obviously a
combination of Spider-Man and the 1950s hit "I Was a Teenage Werewolf." 
My wife Jean helped me work out the precise plot for the first issue.  I
then turned that plot over to Gerry Conway to write and Mike Ploog to
draw.  So Werewolf by Night has four creators.  (Later, when Stan wanted
a second werewolf, whom he named Man-Wolf, my main contribution was to
have him get his changing "powers" from a moon rock.  I don't know whose
idea it was to make him J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son.)

Brother Voodoo - Stan wanted to put a new hero in a revival of the title
STRANGE TALES.  I had made up a Phantom-looking hero called Dr. Voodoo
when I was 11 or 12, so I suggested just a name to Stan:  Dr. Voodoo. 
He thought about it a second and said, after a pause:  "Brother
Voodoo."  I knew what he meant, so I want and got Len Wein to turn that
into a character.  Len did pretty much all the heavy lifting on that
one, looking up voodoo and coming up with the twins idea.  When he
suggested that to me, I immediately thought of the old Captain Triumph
character in Quality's 1940s comics (a man who was helped by his dead
twin), and mentioned that to Len.  He took it from there, and Gene Colan
was brought in to draw... though John Romita designed the look of the
character, making him a co-creator.

Red Wolf - I wanted an American Indian hero for THE AVENGERS, so I told
John Buscema to draw one who had a wolf-mask set up on his head, plus
bare chest and those rawhide leggings, with a wolf buddy named Lobo.  It
worked out fairly well in THE AVENGERS.

3-D Man - With the 1940s stuff like THE INVADERS going, I wanted to do a
comic set in the late 1950s, so made up 3-D Man, even though 3-D was
really a phenomenon of 1953 to 1955 or so at the latest.  I gave him a
costume based on the original Daredevil of Lev Gleason comics, only
colored red and green instead of red and blue, and with a chest symbol. 
Young Canadian artist Jim Craig drew, which makes him co-creator.  I
named him Chuck Chandler, which was the real name of another Lev Gleason
character, Crimebuster... and I borrowed and altered a couple of
elements of Simon and Kirby's one-issue CAPTAIN 3-D as well.  I had
hoped it could be a real 3-D comic, but that was not to be.



John (always thinking) even made a few t-shirts of the print for us to wear at comic cons together. Hey, why not? And they're pretty cool too.

Print artist, Joe St. Pierre (shown here teaching John's daughter, Bryn Cimino the tricks of the trade) did a great job in capturing the majesty and might of the Marvel characters. Hey, I looked pretty darn heroic too...

LINKS TO OTHER ROY THOMAS 
HERO ENVY ARTICLES...

THE ROY THOMAS SPIDER-MAN COSTUME

THE UNCANNY BUT TRUE CREATION OF WOLVERINE

DAYS OF GRIMLOCK, ELVIS PRESLEY AND ROY THOMAS 



Roy William Thomas, Jr.
Roy Thomas is a legendary comic-book writer and editor, who was Stan Lee's first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He is known for co-creating some of comics' greatest characters including Wolverine, Carol Danvers, the Vision, Iron Fist and Ultron. He introduced the pulp magazine heroes Conan and Red Sonja and sci-fi fantasy Star Wars to Marvel Comics. He's also known for his championing of Golden Age comic-book heroes -- particularly the 1940s superhero team the Justice Society of America. Roy had lengthy writing stints on Marvel's X-Men and Avengers, and DC Comics' All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc., among many other titles, books and a couple of movies. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2011 and currently edits the comics-history magazine Alter Ego and works with Stan Lee on the Spider-man newspaper strip.

 www.heroenvy.com

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

DAYS OF GRIMLOCK, ELVIS PRESLEY AND ROY THOMAS


DAYS OF GRIMLOCK, ELVIS PRESLEY 
AND ROY THOMAS




 BY
"RASCALLY" ROY THOMAS
AND
JOHN "THE MEGO STRETCH HULK" CIMINO

I always seem to get asked a lot about my relationship with comic legend Roy Thomas, and while I am his full-time manager and agent, we are really close friends and brothers at heart because we have a lot in common. First off, we were both former school teachers and both HATED it and wanted to move into the world of comics. Roy obviously became one of the most important icons in the history of the medium; co-creating some of the most iconic characters in comics such as Wolverine, Carol Danvers and Ghost Rider. I didn't have his talent, but did pretty good in the industry myself writing for a bunch of comic magazines from TwoMorrows Publishing and in the process, opening a bunch of opportunities for my daughter, Bryn Cimino who has incredible talent (Roy's words, not mine). Her magnificent story can be read at this link: "Waltham eighth grader gets artwork published in national comics magazine." But before either Roy or myself got into the teaching field we were both trying our luck in the music arena. 

My daughter, Bryn Cimino and Roy Thomas

For 10 years (1993-2003), I was the singer in a underground hardcore band called GRIMLOCK and got pretty successful putting out a good body of work during those years; a demo cassette, a 7" record and three albums (A big shout-out goes out to KNIVES OUT RECORDS for currently re-releasing our discography and merchandise and making us bigger and more popular than we've ever been). Roy was always impressed with the success I had in music and showed his support by buying our albums and shirts. He even posed for a picture with one of my albums and the picture was so good that it will be available as a special limited insert card in the re-release of our CRUSHER album coming in the summer of 2018 (check the KNIVES OUT RECORDS page for details). But I impressed Roy because being a hardcore Elvis Presley fan since the '50s and starting up a few bands himself, Roy's REAL dream was to be a rock n' roll star touring the world. Even more so than writing comic-books (yup, you heard that right). While I wanted to be a comic star like he was, rather than in music. This weird dynamic gave us a very interesting bond that has blossomed into a true friendship.

That's me riding the crowds at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City, UT in 1998


My "king of kings" shot at the Worcester Palladium in Worcester, MA. in 2003

Roy Thomas holding the GRIMLOCK CRUSHER CD showing his support in 2017.


TERRIFICON promoter Mitch Hallock, me and Roy (rocking the "old-school" GRIMLOCK t-shirts and a big bucket of popcorn) at the SHOCASE theater in New Jersey watching AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)!

But enough with my ramblings, let's have the master himself tell you his side of the story and you'll see a side of Roy Thomas rarely known or written about. And maybe, just maybe you'll understand why he's always wearing my damn GRIMLOCK shirts. It all started with this email:

Hi John,

Today I ran across this slightly expanded version of an article I wrote a couple of years back for the Jackson, Missouri, newspaper. They printed it... without payment (so I still own it)... and I had to nag them to get a copy, but I'm glad I did it... even though I'd done it largely so my mother could read it, and they hung onto it for a year before printing it, and she died in the meantime. It was meant to remember two vanished Jackson landmarks-- the long-gone Palace Theatre where I ushered, etc., for years, and the Roll-O-Fun, the skating rink that had just recently been torn down. I thought you might get a kick out if... quite a contrast, I'm sure, with your activities with GRIMLOCK.

Roy


Of Silver Screen—And Silver Skates
By Roy Thomas


The Palace Theatre.
The Roll-O-Fun.

A pair of vanished landmarks of the Jackson that I, and an ever-decreasing number of others, remember from the 1940s through the 1960s… in my case, before I wandered off to New York and Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune (still looking!) in the comic book field and even, briefly, in the movie industry.

I read with extreme interest, over a year ago now, my old high school friend Beverly Hahs’ excellent piece on the Palace Theatre and all the worthies who worked her lobby, projection booth, aisles, and balcony before she disappeared forever, after all those years of being nestled between Ideal Grocery on the corner side and bars with names like Breezy’s and Blick’s on the other. Beverly forwarded to me the Cashbook Journal’s invitation to write my own reminiscences of the Palace, where I worked at least half a dozen years… and I was mentally gearing up to do so when my class-of-’58 fellow JHS graduate John Short mailed me a copy of its Jan. 28, 2015, edition. And there at the bottom of page 1 was an article on the demolition of the Jackson Skating Rink—or the Roll-O-Fun, as it was known back in the day. 

Both theatre and roller rink loomed large in my own and others’ pasts, so I hope readers will indulge me while I dredge up my personal memories of both. For me, at least, the Roll-O-Fun sort of picked up where the Palace left off.

I’d been going to movies at the Palace since 1943-44. The first movie I recall seeing there (or anywhere) was “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery” starring Johnny Weissmuller, when I was three. The clunky giant spider at the film’s climax made such a strong impression on me that I couldn’t resist mentioning the experience to the fabled Johnny/Tarzan himself one night in 1975, when, as guests at a Texas comics convention, the two of us and Johnny’s diminutive European wife sat nursing our drinks in a hotel disco. Well, his wife and I nursed ours, but Johnny packed ’em away, probably to dull the pain he felt since a bad fall after which doctors had predicted—inaccurately—that he’d never walk again, let alone swing on vines or give out his trademark Tarzan yodel. But I digress, as is my wont.

It was around 1954 that I began working at the Palace, originally as an usher. Bill Heyde and Linton Loetje, two years ahead of me at JHS (which I began attending that year after graduating from St. Paul Lutheran School), were already employed there. Bill, the brilliant son of a greatly respected English teacher, became a particular friend and even role model of mine. Kent Wilson, son and grandson of the Palace’s owners, was on staff, as well, as his younger brother Jimmy would be later. I’m a bit hazy about who else worked there in ’54, except of course Grandpa Kent and his daughter Marian—and Howard Jaeger, the friendly but firm manager and ticket-taker—and Hugh Blackman, ensconced in the little projection booth way at the top/back of the balcony—and raspy-voiced Bertha Hartle, who seemed to have sold tickets in that front booth forever and who’d go on doing so till near the very end.

I don’t recall a lot of “hard facts” about the Palace that weren’t ably covered by Beverly… just that it contained several hundred seats (I’m told its total capacity was 550), perhaps a quarter or so of which consisted of the balcony. That balcony, for the first year or three I worked there, still had what was then called a “colored section,” up in the far right corner and set off from the rest of the balcony by a railing, the only place African-Americans (the term then was “Negroes,” of course) could be seated. When it was full—and it only had a couple of dozen seats, all of them made of wood—no more tickets could be sold to African-Americans. That section was already an awkward anachronism by the time I arrived, but it didn’t instantly die with the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated schools. It did fade away over the next few years, though; and while I’m sorry to admit that previously I’d accepted it as just “the way things are,” I don’t recall anyone on staff expressing regret when it was done away with and “Negroes” were allowed to be seated anywhere in the theatre. Nor do I recall even one unpleasant incident after the movie house was fully integrated. I’m kinda proud of the Palace, and of Jackson, for that.

As for the owners: I don’t recall a lot about the grand patriarch, “Mr. Wilson,” as he was always called, except that he was given to sitting in the theatre’s back row and watching bits of the movies—usually with an unlit cigar in his mouth. He could be gruff, but not in a nasty way. But far too soon came the night in March 1955 when we learned that he, his daughter Marian, and her sister Irene had been killed in a car wreck on a rainy night, coming back from a business trip to St. Louis.

Suddenly Marian’s three children—Marilyn, Kent, and Jimmy—were the owners of the theatre. It was soon being managed by Marilyn’s new husband, Marvin Proffer, a SEMO grad, who also took charge of the family’s other major holding, Jackson’s weekly newspaper the Missouri Cashbook, as it was then called. The Cashbook offices were on the opposite side of the street from the Palace, and up a ways. There was often friction between Marv and us employees, but a lot of that was just him being the boss and us being a bunch of teenage slackers. One of the main things I remember about Marv was that he insisted that, if we ever had to scrawl out a sign to tack up somewhere, we use the spelling “Theatre,” not “Theater.” “Nobody in the business ever spells it ‘theatre’!” he would insist. I’ve never spelled the word “theater” since, if I can help it.

The job of movie usher is a vocation all but extinct in movie theatres nowadays, and it faded out even in the Palace’s later years. One usher for the balcony, and one (or, on weekends, two—one for each aisle) downstairs… using their flashlights to help patrons to their seats and shushing the noisier patrons, mostly (but not always!) kids and teenagers. From the knuckle-dragging specimens of the latter, we’d sometimes receive unveiled death threats in response to our admonitions. The theatre could still get a bit crowded during the mid-’50s, an era when the farmers and townspeople still roamed the main streets in droves on Saturday nights… and Lord help us if a “Ma and Pa Kettle” movie was playing! Then there’d be standing room only, and we ushers would have to split up couples when singleton seats opened up here and there. There was a movie about mule-farmers—“Scudda-Hoo, Scudda-Hay,” with Lon McAllister—that drew such crowds they had to bring it back for a rare second engagement, though I think that was when I was just a kid patron, not an usher.

Homecomers [a carnival that came to town once a year, setting up its rides and attractions in the town’s main streets] was a problem, too, one late-summer week a year… with so much noise from the rides and the carnival hucksters who filled the street right in front of the Palace that the sounds often drifted inside.

My classmate Jim Sawyer was another guy who worked there by the late ’50s… there were probably others I’ll remember as soon as I’ve handed in this article. I’m told that, by the late ’50s, there was a girl or two on stuff… but I’ll have to confess that I don’t remember them. Maybe it’s because I was going steady by then.

Increasingly by the latter ’50s, I, like others, filled additional jobs at the Palace… as popcorn boy, then also as soda-and-candy seller when Marv added a soda machine and candy shelf on the opposite side of the lobby, near the water fountain, bathroom, and stairway. Later, I even sat in the front booth and sold tickets from time to time, spelling Bertha; my mother Leona Thomas had done the same thing earlier. The one thing I refused to do was learn to run the projector, as I didn’t want to be stuck in that little booth up at the back of the balcony, changing reels every twenty minutes (or seven, after a cartoon). Even if I hadn’t screwed it up (which I would have!), it would’ve ruined the magic of the movies for me. Hey, even Hugh Blackman wasn’t perfect. One night circa 1960 when I was in the audience watching “The Old Man and the Sea” based on the Hemingway novel, Spencer Tracy was wrestling with that “big fish” he’d caught—a reel change came—and suddenly there was cowboy Alan Ladd walking into a ranch house. The previous theatre showing “Old Man” had shipped one wrong reel (and not that right one) to the Palace, so while seven minutes later it was back to fishing and fighting off sharks, the handful of Jackson patrons that night never did get to view the omitted reel. Luckily, I’d seen the movie a few weeks earlier in a Cape Girardeau theatre.

One thing none of us employees liked (out of probably way too many things) was having to change the marquee and out-front posters and lobby cards when the feature changed—which was three or even four times a week in the days when the theatre was open seven days a week. We’d argue about which of us had to get up on the rickety ladder to change the lettering on the marquee. Naturally, since the top line would generally herald the star, and the bottom line the movie’s title, our favorites were shorties like “Alan Ladd” in “Shane” or “Rock Hudson” in “Giant.” Sometimes we’d have to omit a word or two from the title to squeeze things in. We went crazy on the rare occasion we needed a “Q” or a “Z”—’cause I’m not sure we always had two of each of those letters, one for each side. God forbid we should ever need four of those letters! We always lusted after swiping the little lobby cards with their scenes from the movies, but we never did. Well, I never did. Too chicken. I can’t really speak for anyone else.

All of us hated being drafted for clean-up duty on weekends, but once in a while we had to come in and push dust around, at Marv’s command. One Saturday morning circa 1960, I was helping out, as was younger employee Gary Friedrich and someone else—and Marv, bless him, had just painstakingly waxed the entire lobby floor. Really got it spic and span… gleaming! He was so proud. But there on the floor, right next to the machine, somebody set a big fat bottle of Coke syrup—that ultra-thick quasi-liquid that was to be poured into the soda machine to mix with carbonated water and come out as Coca-Cola. As I walked by it, the side of my shoe clipped the bottle just right… and the bottle shattered. That gooey syrup started spreading darkly all over Marv’s nice clean lobby floor, not unlike the Blob in that recent movie starring young Steve McQueen. And Marv, understandably, just lost it. He screamed at the top of his lungs about how he’d never seen anybody so &$*@% clumsy as me in his whole life—and, well, maybe he hadn’t. Gary was trying so hard not to laugh that I thought he’d choke. Marv wouldn’t let me help him clean up the mess—he just sent me home, so I couldn’t break anything else that day.

But I still think the bottle must’ve had a weak spot, because I didn’t kick it that hard.

One habit Gary and I in particular had, that Marv could never break us of, with cajoling or threats: we wanted to see movies as early as we could, so we’d often drive over to Cape to see them (as per “The Old Man and the Sea” above). By contract, there was at least a week or two delay before a movie playing at the Esquire or Broadway (or even the Rialto—forget about the low-budget Orpheum) could play in Jackson, and Marv didn’t like it being known that some of his staffers were seeing movies earlier in Cape. Our argument that we wouldn’t be paying to see the movies in Jackson anyway fell on deaf ears…we were setting a bad example for other Jacksonian teens, apparently… but we kept on going, and just tried to avoid talking about them near Marv. But he knew. 

As TV increasingly kept people away from movie theatres, attendance gradually declined at the Palace by the late ’50s. Somewhere along the line, Howard was finally let go, probably as a cost-cutting move, and Marv—or even one of us popcorn/soda boys—had to take tickets. I remember how proud I was when I learned to tear the tickets in two while holding them in just the one hand! We’ve all got to take our triumphs where we can find them.

Gary and I had become really good buds by that time, despite his being 3-4 years younger than I was. (He still is.) I had pretty much control of my family’s 1952 Chevy (zero to 60 in about as many seconds), so he and I and some other guys, not all of them Palace staffers, would tool around after the show closed for the night, pooling our resources to buy a dollar’s worth of gas. Palace employee Ronnie Lowes was one of us… we called him “Gus-Gus” after the chunky mouse in “Cinderella,” and he kind of got to like the name. We called ourselves “the Gaberlunzies,” an archaic word that meant “wandering beggars.” 

Jim (“Crunch”) Wilson, one of the Palace’s owners as well as a staffer, often accompanied us. His brother Kent and Bill Heyde and Linton Loetje had long since moved on to universities out of town, but starting in ’58 I was commuting from Jackson to SEMO every day, so I wasn’t going anywhere until at least ’61, when I planned to graduate in three years by going during summers. One Saturday morning in there somewhere, Marv dispatched Jim, Gary, and me—and maybe one other person—with orders to go find a Christmas tree for the theatre. Since we weren’t given any money to buy one, we knew that meant we should chop one down at the side of some back-country road. Jim had an idea where, so we were soon chopping away. Alas, the farmer who owned the land spotted us from a distance. We sped off with the tree, but he must’ve recognized Jim or “my” car or something, because by the time we got back to town, he’d already phoned the theatre and Marv had already agreed to pay him for the tree. I suppose things could’ve gone a lot worse for us tree-thieves. But we were only following orders.

One evening in 1959, when I was the official ticket-taker, I had Gary spell me while I walked up a few doors to Fulenweider’s Drugstore to check out the week’s new comic books. I was enthusiastic about the fact that super-heroes were making a comeback, starting with a revived version of DC Comics’ super-fast Flash from the 1940s… and that night, I stumbled across a new incarnation of another childhood favorite: Green Lantern, whose power ring could create anything he could think of. Gary and I both read the comic that night. Gary never became the comics fan I was, but he’d read Mad as a kid, just like I had. Still, if anybody’d told us that night that, a decade later, the two of us would already be looking backward at several years spent as comic book writers and even editors, we’d have thrown them out of the Palace on suspicion of being drunk—or worse.

Sometime in ’60 or early ’61, I finally decided to quit, even though I really needed the meager bit of money the job paid, since I wouldn’t graduate till that July. I was really teed off at Marv about something—maybe rightly, maybe wrongly… it doesn’t really matter. So, anyway, there was this thing I did that really made Marv see red: I was given to doing hand-stands on the bullet-shaped trashcan in the lobby, and he had chewed me out about it once or twice. So, the afternoon I decided to quit, Marv walked in to find me doing one of those trademark hand-stands, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. I leaped down and told him I was quitting, and I walked out, feeling very proud of myself. (In retrospect, it’s hard to see anything to be proud of, but I was young.)

And so ended my career at the Palace. I went back to see movies there occasionally (after a decent interval) and of course paid for my ticket. After a while, Marv stopped scowling at me every time I walked in, and a few years later, when I became a teacher or later a comics writer in New York, we were friendly. He even got me absentee ballots once or twice so I could vote in local (as well as Presidential) elections, until the time limit ran out on that. 

The Palace itself by then had pretty much cut back to only being open on weekends… maybe Friday through Sunday… and a few years later, probably after I’d split for New York, it finally closed for good. I remember getting a sad feeling the first time I came home and there was no longer a Palace Theatre sign and boxoffice there. And you know what? I’ve never been back to Jackson since—the last time being five or six years ago, when my mother still lived there—that I didn’t drive down that street at least once, and get a lump in my throat for what wasn’t there.

My own connection with the Roll-O-Fun/roller-skating rink—and Gary’s, I suspect—wasn’t as long or strong as with the Palace, but for me, at least, it goes back to the early ’50s or so, which I think is when it opened. I could figure out the general era I did the most skating (my years in the 7th-8th grades, more or less) if I bothered to Google when Teresa Brewer’s pop song “Ricochet Romance” was a hit… I must’ve heard in a zillion times while rolling around the rink, and I loved that song.

Then, for a number of years I didn’t do much skating—other interests, don’t you know—and by 1962 I was a high school English teacher at Fox School in Arnold, just south of St. Louis County. But I still came to my parents’ home in Jackson many weekends, for a couple of summers I took graduate classes at SEMO, and sometime around 1962, Gary and a couple of “new guys” started a rock’n’roll band and Gary asked me to be the vocalist.

This harked back to 1958, when Gary, Palmer (Pal) Hacker, and I had been in a JHS skit shilling for Tom Heyde (Bill’s younger brother), who was running for student body president. As an early and avid Elvis Presley fan, since the day in early 1956 when I first heard “Heartbreak Hotel” on the radio at Kerstner’s drugstore), I’d charcoaled on a pair of sideburns and got a banjo to stand in for a guitar (not that I could play either), with fellow Elvis fan Gary on drums and Pal on piano. We were “Evitz Pretzel and the Trans-Jordanaires,” entertaining Washington’s troops at Valley Forge in between their ping-pong tournaments. 

Roy Thomas in Evitz Pretzel and the Trans-Jordanaires in 1958

There’s even a crossover with the Palace Theatre here: later that year, after my piano-playing friend and classmate John Short had won the JHS talent contest homaging rocker Jerry Lee Lewis (as “Jerry Lee Moose”), Marv hired the four of us to do a special one-night live performance on its stage—to what turned out to be a sold-out crowd—even though we couldn’t get John’s piano up on the stage, so people had to stand to get a good view of him pounding away. (The movie that night was a totally forgettable feature starring David Janssen about a couple of kids lost in Japan that otherwise would probably have pulled a dozen people, so we felt good about that.) During that year or so, Gary, Pal, and I were also asked to do our act at high school dances, at a Rotary (Optimist?) lunch meeting, and even at the annual hosiery-mill party. (There, we purposely offended the hosiery-mill execs by covering an Eddie Cochran movie song, “You Gonna Make No Cotton-picker Outta Me,” whose lyrics we changed to “You Ain’t Gonna Make No Hosiery-Knitter Out of Me”—even though my mother worked there at the time!) We also placed third one night at a Homecomers talent contents before an audience of hundreds… and when a semi-professional group of hula-dancers won another night, we purposely offended the final night playoff’s judges by donning grass skirts and doing a song called “Hawaiian Rock,” which had been a mild hit for Tommy Sands.)

So now, circa 1962 or maybe late ’61, Gary asked me to sing with his new band—the Gaberlunzies, what else?—though we later had to change our name to the less inspired Galaxies because no one could spell or even remember “Gaberlunzies.” Singing was all I could do, since I didn’t play an instrument. The lead guitarist was a tough but likeable Elvis lookalike from Cape named Rocky Bierschwal, who was fresh out of reform school (he’d spend a few spells in prison later, I’m sorry to say, but he was a great guy), and a quiet SEMO student named Frank. Somehow, I even got the band to pay for my microphone.

And our main weekly gig was—the Roll-O-Fun, under Woody and Jean Seabaugh. 

Oh, we played other spots in the Cape area and even occasionally further afield, but the Roll-O-Fun was our venue most Friday nights, after the skating had ended for the evening. In the early days before the two of us broke up, my longtime girlfriend Linda Rahm (who lived just a few hundred feet up the hill on West Main) would sit on the sidelines slipping me a thermos of hot tea to keep my throat from going raw. Rocky, convinced I was actually sneaking in liquor, once grabbed the thermos and swigged down its contents—only to promptly spit it out: “It’s $#%&% tea!”

We had good crowds, generally, even if I recall we rarely wound up with more than $10-$20 apiece for the four of us. For me, though, it was heaven. I never liked being a teacher… and I think I probably liked singing rock’n’roll even more than I’d later like writing comic books. The teenage dancers were just a blur to me, because I refused to wear my glasses when I sang. Rock’n’roll singers didn’t wear glasses—except for the late Buddy Holly, and I’d never liked anything by him except “That’ll Be the Day”—so I preferred being half-blind than being some “four-eyes” up there at the mike.

Our staples were songs by Elvis and Bobby Darin, among others—and Gary and I would team up occasionally on duets like “Paula” and “Speedy Gonzales.” The band usually played only a handful of instrumentals (“Walk Don’t Run,” “Sleepwalk,” etc.), so I rarely got a chance to dance.

Things were usually pretty uneventful during our Roll-O-Fun stints, but we had our moments—like when Rocky took offense, one night while we were setting up, at some insult Gary spat at him and got him down on the floor, somehow managing to pummel him without really hurting him. “I just had to teach him a lesson,” Rocky told me softly after he’d allowed Frank and me to pull him off Gary—something we couldn’t have done with a derrick if he hadn’t let us. Rocky got easily bored, though. I think we were able to prevent him from ever actually splitting totally during one of the breaks, but from time to time he was known to sit on the amp with his back to the dancing floor while playing.

Woody and Jean were nice to work for, even if we kept trying to pry more money out of them. They were fair, and they never tried to take advantage of us. The only time I recall Woody being unhappy with me was when Linda showed up once wearing a new style of “hip-huggers,” with a bare midriff; he kept mumbling that he wished she’d “pull her pants up.”

We played the Roll-O-Fun and a few other area spots for a couple of years—and then the Beatles happened, at the turn of ’63-’64. Since no one in the band but me wanted to sing, we couldn’t really do their songs well… and over the next few months, we sort of went away.

The Roll-O-Fun itself, I’m glad to say, lasted some years longer. Beholding an empty lot where it used to be wouldn’t fill me with quite the same sense of loss as does the irredeemable black hole left by the demise of the Palace Theatre… but there’d be a pang there. No way there wouldn’t.

But Gary and I—and I hope Marv and Bill and Jimmy and “Gus-Gus” and Rocky and Frank, as well—remember the good times, while the bad memories mostly fade away like morning dew.

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, and it’s hard to argue with the title of a book by a major American author.

But he forgot one thing: you don’t have to go home again, if that home is forever emblazed on your memory and your heart.

The Palace Theatre and the Roll-O-Fun skating rink—long may they wave!


Roy Thomas, me, Belmark Sinnott, Jim Tournas and Joe Sinnott (in the middle) at EAST COAST COMIC CON in 2018. How many legends can you count in one picture?


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THE ROY THOMAS SPIDER-MAN COSTUME

THE UNCANNY BUT TRUE CREATION OF WOLVERINE



Roy William Thomas, Jr.
Roy Thomas is a legendary comic-book writer and editor, who was Stan Lee's first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He is known for co-creating some of comics' greatest characters including Wolverine, Carol Danvers, the Vision, Iron Fist and Ultron. He introduced the pulp magazine heroes Conan and Red Sonja and sci-fi fantasy Star Wars to Marvel Comics. He's also known for his championing of Golden Age comic-book heroes -- particularly the 1940s superhero team the Justice Society of America. Roy had lengthy writing stints on Marvel's X-Men and Avengers, and DC Comics' All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc., among many other titles, books and a couple of movies. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2011 and currently edits the comics-history magazine Alter Ego and works with Stan Lee on the Spider-man newspaper strip.


John Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, RETRO FAN, BACK ISSUE and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing, runs the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John still thinks he's really Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at johnstretch@live.com or follow him on Instagram at megostretchhulk.

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