Saturday, December 16, 2006

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #20

Or should we say, in keeping with the spirit of the season...What the Saint Nick is goin' on here?!?:

Famous Funnies #161
Famous Funnies #161, December 1947

A scene from the Rankin/Bass holiday special: The Year Without Santa Claus's Pants. Hmmm, Napoleon the dog seems to be rightfully scared out of his wits by a pantless Kris Kringle, but oddly enough Rudolph is a bit...if you'll pardon the expression..."turned on."

So, in conclusion: When you put out milk 'n' cookies for Santa, don't forget to put out some Aricept, too!

Cartoon advertising spokespersons from out of your nightmares, Miltary History Division

Not so much about comic books, although there's it is a bit about cartooning:

I'm not a military history buff myself, although there are lots and lots of people who are, which is all dandy and fine. I'm certain a very large majority of them are smart, intelligent, passionate about their hobby and very well informed in history and warfare. Likewise, collecting military memorabilia is probably an exciting and educational hobby. (Well, it's no weirder than collecting flimsy stapled books of superpowered fantasy, at least.)

Why then, target an ad to that potential professional market with a cartoon spokesperson who looks like a freakin' crazed lunatic?:

Really, does that hobby need a demented, barmy wacko icon who looks like one of DangerMouse's nemeses?

International Military Antiques (who I'm sure is fine, upstanding company) features an extensive and professional-looking mail-order catalogue (it's downloadable from their website) chock-full of many more military caricatures: as they describe it, famous "light hearted" military sketches by artist/historian Scott Novson. And those are actually quite good: expressive, vibrant, detailed cartoons, almost kinda Jack Davisy, of military personnel through the ages wearing different authentic uniforms and using gear you can buy from the catalogue:

I like Scott Novson's catalogue illustrations a lot. They should have used one of them in their ad. They've got that bold, brassy, Dan Dare/Battler Britton look to them, and while a lot of them have smiles on their faces, they're looks of military pride and confidence. That's the sort of illustration, the sort of look that will draw hobbyists and military buffs to your website and store. Not furrow-browed, eyebrow-arching, gap-toothed lunatic visages of we will burn your huts and salt your earth:


So, in conclusion, if you're in the market for military antiques, by all means definitely check out IMA. They've got some pretty cool lookin' stuff, and I have nothing but respect for their thoroughness, professionalism and dedication to servicing the fans of a popular hobby and field of scholarship. So please, military history buffs, don't aim that authentic military weaponry at this little stuffed bull, please! All I'm saying is...just watch out for the evil eye of Jungle Jim!

Awww, who am I kidding. Like my hobby should talk:

I can't draw worth beans...

But I still wish you a Merry Christmas!

Bully's Fantastic Christmas returns with two lengthy chapters on Monday and Tuesday.
PS: Dear Santa, may I please have some new colored pencils for Christmas?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 10

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

Previously, on Bully's Fantastic Christmas, young Bully the Little Stuffed Bull went Christmas shopping and has had all sorts of mishaps and strange meetings. Want more background? You should first read Parts 1-9, right here! Have you done that? Good! Now read on...

And now it's time for a very short installment in our Christmas serial, but don't worry, Bully-boosters—parts eleven and twelve will be much longer, and they're coming next Monday and Tuesday to finish off the story just in time for, uh, five days before Christmas. So, without further ado, it's today's chapter in Bully's Fantastic Christmas, the adventure that comes with this iron-clad guarantee: no publisher has been fired in the making of this story.

Part 10: These Little Piggies Went Bea, Dee, Vee, All the Way Home

Effie's trotters clattered as she zoomed through the East River tunnel at a speeds so fast Bully could swear he'd heard a sonic boom but which was probably just his heart beating. He let out a short excited squeak and his little button eyes opened wider in fright as a sudden blast of cold moist stale air hit them from behind—the rush of the approaching train. But like a breeze lifts a kite, that wind almost seemed to lift up Effie, and she broke into her fastest sprint yet, and before Bully could even notice the light at the end of the tunnel, together they burst out like a rocket into York Street Station.

Effie leaned back, her trotters skidding and sparking against the floor, and with a quick jerk and a whirl that would have thrown Bully off her back had he not been holding as tightly as she had told him, she ducked into a dark hole on the side that led under the station's platform, a hole barely big enough for them, only a good three or four seconds before the train blasted into the station, its huge wheels grinding to a noisy, screeching halt just inches in front of their noses. "Hmmph!" Effie shook her head in disgust at the train. "A terrible braking job! So sloppy. Who trains these kids anyway?" She turned around, deep into the hole, and trotted into the darkness.

"Where are we going?" Bully squeaked. "I want to go home to Brooklyn!"

"And so you shall, dear," Effie said wearily, "but you've got to give me a few minutes to catch my breath. And I have to check in on someone. Don't worry," she noted Bully's anxious expression, "I'll have you home in time for getting all your Christmas gifts."

Yeah, thought Bully downheartedly. But not for giving them.

They moved through the darkness for a long time, Effie walking in silence, still breathing heavily from her exertion. Just when Bully thought they must have been walking halfway to Queens or maybe even the Bronx, the tunnel widened out and they emerged into a small cave. It was cool in here, and Bully clutched his duffel coat around him and shivered a little. It was only dimly lit from a grate in the ceiling above, but the change in light was so dramatic to Bully after the darkness of the tunnel that he couldn't see anything at first, until at last his eyes adjusted to the point where he could see six bright pinpoints of light in the shadows.

He blinked at them.

"Mom!" A voice came from directly between and just below one of the pairs of pinpoints, and before Bully could blink a second time, three orange piglets, no bigger than Nerf footballs and twice as bouncy, leapt out of the darkness and crowded around Effie.

"Mom mom mom mom mom!" they squeaked, leaping and jumping and bounding and dancing, and Effie kissed each one of them and nuzzled them with her snout.

"Hello dears," she cooed lovingly, and nudged her snout at Bully. "I would like you all to meet our guest. This is Bully. Bully, these are my piglets: Bea, Dee, and Vee."

"Hi Bully!" the three piglets.

"Hi hi hi!" Bully said, from left to right.

The story will continue in the much-longer part eleven on Monday, and no fair revealing the ending in the comments about what's gonna happen! G'wan, don't ruin it for everybody!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 9

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

You can’t tell what’s going on if you’ve only just joined us, so catch up with Parts 1-8, right here!

Part 9: Faster, Piggypig! Run! Run!

New Yorkers pride themselves on their savvy and sophisticated ways, but many of them don't see the marvels underneath their own noses—noses they like to poke into businesses in all directions but which often miss some of the most amazing sights in the city. Especially in the subway, the rule is keep your eyes forward and your head down and rush rush rush to get to where you need to be (not necessarily want to be) as speedily as possible.

That's why when the rush of stale air blasting out of the tunnels and the rattle of the tracks sounded in the 23rd Street station, the passengers waiting for the arrival of the F train shuffled forward towards the edge of the platform, but everyone was so intent on looking for the train that no one actually noticed the orange blur zipping down between the tracks, zooming through the station in a wink of an eye and a bobbing curly tail. Papers whipped and scarves blew in the windy wake, but as the tracks stopped rattling, the crowd moved back again, focused on iPods and Sudoku and The New York Times just like before. It was the sort of moment that, in the movies, would have been capped by a double-take and a man pouring out his bottle of generic liquor onto the ground with a “never again” shrug. But in a Manhattan subway full of busy commuters, most everyone had tunnel vision, and if anyone actually saw the plump orange pig dashing southwards with a little stuffed bull on her back, they kept it to themselves: a private Christmas miracle.

Bully held on firmly to the pig, tighter than the grip of a wet lollipop stuck to his fur (and he knew from sad personal experience how grippy that was. He gaped upwards in amazement as stations flashed past him: 14th Street, West 4th, Broadway/Lafayette. As they passed Second Avenue Bully's thoughts fell upon a place he had once lived, above this station, a store he'd lived in before John had taken the little stuffed bull home to live, a shop filled with toys and games and all sorts of fun things—but Bully had never felt completely comfortable there, among the scary Mexican wrestler dolls and the naughty playing cards and the sarcastic t-shirts. It had never been a home.

Home was a cozy, crowded apartment in Brooklyn, and Bully had never missed it so much in his life.

"Hang on, Bully," Effie called breathlessly as they passed through the Yancy Street station, and he obediently grabbed harder at her neck and squeezed his knees tight around her back.

He leaned down close to her ear and asked her, "What are you, Effie? If it's not a rude question," he added hastily.

Effie laughed merrily. "Of course not, dear. What am I? I'm a tunnel pig." She nodded as if that explained it all.

"What's a tunnel pig?" Bully asked.

Effie smiled. "Tunnel pigs," she explained, "keep the trains from running into each other. If a train is going too fast, a tunnel pig will run in front of it and slow it down. That way it doesn't bump into the train in front of it. Haven't you ever heard of tunnel pigs? We're a vital part of the MTA workforce."

"I thought," Bully said thoughtfully, "that they had red lights to do that." Bully was quite a subway enthusiast, and enjoyed riding in the front subway car and looking out through the dirty window to the tracks ahead, spotting the signals that halted or coaxed the train on. No one had ever mentioned tunnel pigs to him before!

"Who told you that nonsense?" Effie said, scoffing but not cross, "Don't believe everything you hear, little Bully. There are more things under earth than are dreamt of in a little bull's philosophy! Luckily today the trains are running slow because of all the people, so they won't miss me if I take some time out to run you home. But I'd better stop talking and get a move on." She frowned worriedly. "There's a train coming up behind us. I don't want to be caught in front of that."

Bully's fuzzy ears twitched as he strained to hear something other than the rush of wind past his face and the clack of Effie's trotters on the tracks and the splash as she bounded through puddles. "I don't hear anything," he said, dubiously.

"When you've been on this job as long as I have, dear..." Effie said patiently, picking up the pace. "...anyway, there's an F train just leaving Yancy Street. And we're about to pass right under the East River. It's a very long stretch without stations and I don't want to be caught there by that train. Now hush, please, dear, and let me run." So Bully obediently shut up and held on tightly as Effie accelerated, the dim darkness of the tunnel flashing past him.

In a moment he thought he could hear something. "Is that it?" he asked, tilted his head to catch the distant dull roar behind them. "Is that a train coming?" But Effie did not pause to answer. If Bully had thought she was running fast before then she was virtually flying now. She arrowed straight and true down the space between the first two rails, never missing a step, never breaking her stride, her four muscled long legs moving in graceful and powerful balance as she and Bully rocketed down into the darkness. When Bully read his Flash comics he often daydreamed about tapping into the Speed Force and becoming the Fastest Bull Alive, zipping across the city in a matter of seconds. A few ill-advised experiments with his Radio Flyer and a balloon filled with baking soda and vinegar aside, however, Bully had never moved this fast without being in a car or plane before.

Bully suddenly felt a thick muffled pressure on his fuzzy head and a moment later his ears popped. He knew that feeling—they were under the deepest part of the East River, a little more than halfway across the long tunnel to York Street. But now the rush of the train was louder, and Bully found himself crouching forward on Effie's back as if leaning in that direction would speed her up.

Steam puffed from Effie's snout now in twin misty bursts as, on either side of them, the tracks began to vibrate—quietly at first, then a loud metallic hum, and then a odd, off-tone twanging noise like a cowboy balladeer tuning up his rusty banjo in one of the Roy Rogers movies Ox liked to watch. Bully gulped nervously as Effie rocketed onwards, the rush of air past them pressing the soft silky pink fur on her snout flat against her skin, and Bully was struck with a horrible, horrible thought: what if Effie wasn't fast enough to outrace a train because she had a little stuffed bull on her back?

Oh no! Will Effie be fast enough? Or will tomorrow’s Part 10 star a pig and cow pancake? (In the meantime, you can track their journey starting at 34 Street/Herald Square and moving southward very fast on the MTA F Line Map! And pay no attention to the fact that the MTA misspelled “Yancy” as “Delancey”…Yancy Street never gets no respect, I tell ya!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 8

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

A short chapter today (but don't worry, Bully-fans, there's still plenty of excitement a-hoof!) And if'n you missed 'em, Parts 1-7 are here!

Part 8: Pigs Will Fly

Bully blinked and wiped his wet hoof on his sweater as he stared down at the pig. She was bigger than Snuckles, but not huge; a pretty orange pig about the size of the bathroom wastebasket, and it took Bully a few seconds to realize why, aside from the size, she looked so much different than his best friend Snuckles.

She was real. This was no stuffed animal (not that there was anything wrong with that); she was a living, breathing, real live pig. Except for being orange and in the subway, of course. Bully had never seen a pig in the subway before. That performing bear, of course. And the rat brothers: Ratsy, Chuckles, and Depravo. But never a pig. First time for everything, he thought, peering over the edge of the platform at her, careful not to lose his footing and fall over.

"Hello," she smiled up at him, crossing over the first track and putting her trotters up on the side wall to press her snout up near his hooves. "I'm Effie. What's your name?"

"Hi hi hi!" Bully said excitedly. His snuffles and sniffles were forgotten in his fascination with the pig and the attention she was showing. "I'm Bully!"

"Hello Bully!" Effie inclined her head, her ears flapping up and down. "And I repeat: what are you crying about? What's to cry about on Christmas Eve?"

There were a million things, Bully reflected miserably, but he was still so ashamed of himself that he didn't even want to mention that, even to a pretty and friendly face like Effie. "I want to go home," he sniffled. "And I can't even get on the train."

"My, my, my," Effie wrinkled her snout in concern. "It's an awfully busy day for you to be out and about, little stuffed Bully. No wonder you can't get on the train." Her tail twitched in a familiar motion—it reminded Bully of the same exact motion Snuckles performed when he was getting an idea: an amazing, wonderful, clever idea. "Where are you going?" she asked.

"Brooklyn," Bully said.

"Well, duh," Effie rolled her eyes, but she did it and said it with such kindness and humor that Bully didn't feel insulted at all. In fact, he giggled just a little bit behind his hoof. "Of course you're going to Brooklyn. Why else would you be on the Brooklyn platform? What station, silly Bully?"

"Seventh Avenue," Bully said.

"Easy enough!" Effie dropped down back between the tracks and lifted her head up to twitch her snout at Bully. "Hop on."

Bully stared in bemusement. "Huh?"

"Hop on!" repeated Effie, shrugging her back. "I'll take you to Seventh Avenue. And hurry up." Her ears perked and stood up on end. "There's a train coming. Hear it? Let's get a move on!"

Bully could hear nothing at all, but he shimmied down the dirty platform and plopped with a quiet grunt right onto Effie's back. "There you go!" she declared encouragingly, "Hold onto my neck tight now. And watch that your shopping bag doesn't bang into my legs. I need all the room I can get to move."

Bully secretly doubted, although he was much too polite to say it aloud, that a pig, even a friendly orange one, would be fast enough to get him home. But he was glad of the company and the kindness, and he leaned over and held tight to Effie's neck. "Okay, I'm r..."

Before Bully could even finish sentence, the pig's powerful back legs tensed like a pair of steel springs and they blasted ahead, running down the tracks, sprinting and dashing like a bullet out of a gun. Bully yelped and held on for dear life, wrapping his fuzzy arms around Effie's warm neck, and the station flashed over and past him and then behind, as Effie plunged into the darkness of the subway tunnel, dashing at top speed down the F Train line towards Brooklyn, her trotters raising showers of sparks on the tracks as she ran.

So why is there a pig in the subway? Find out in Part 9!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The unseen villainy

Like whipping us with a sharp snap across the face with a glove, albeit a glove transmitted over the internet, which come to think of it, would probably be some sort of theoretical glove, or at the very least an e-glove, Brandon over at Random Panels issues the challenge to the blogosphere assembled to "fill in the blanks" of a Thor/Cap panel.

Have at ye, then, sir!:

Truth in advertising notice: I'm not sure what issue this is from or indeed if Colletta was even involved. But who needs truthiness in going for the yucks? Not me, that's fer sure.

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 7

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

Parts 1-6 are here!

Part 7: True Bulliever

He did not have very much time to feel sorry for himself. Now the subway was elbow-to-elbow with New Yorkers and tourists, jostling and hurrying on their ways home from their frantic last-minute Christmas shopping, and Bully had to use all his wits and instincts to keep from being trampled altogether. He darted from empty spot to empty spot on the floor as fast as he could, dodging a boot here, ducking a pointed shoe there, being sideswiped by a stroller and getting knocked on his fuzzy behind by carelessly swung shopping bags. He ran and ran and ran as fast as he could, weaving and rushing, through the crowd towards the turnstiles, making a broad leap onto the turnstile, tugging his MetroCard out of his purse and extending it towards the scanner.

But as he started to swipe, a careless commuter, swinging her hand wildly as she popped her token into the slot, knocked hard against Bully's back and sent him spinning head over heels off the platform and down onto the floor. Bully sat up dizzily and managed to roll to one side just in time to prevent being squashed under the enormous booted foot of a New York construction worker. He peered around wildly for his MetroCard, which had gone flying from his hooves when he fell. There it was—on the other side of the turnstile.

As if he weren't feeling bad enough already, Bully gulped guiltily as he ran through the legs of commuters beneath the turnstile to fetch is MetroCard. He'd never tried to dodge a fare in his life—he was an honest little bull—but he couldn't get anywhere without his MetroCard. But Bully hadn't counted on how far away the MetroCard had fell. It seemed like a mile away from him now, lying there bent and muddy on the floor as people walked over it, kicking it unknowingly until it slid away, disappearing under the feet of the crowd, far, far out of Bully's sight.

He gloomily hung his head and forlornly trudged down the stairs for the Brooklyn-bound F Train, his plastic Jim Hanley's bag with the trio of comics dragging behind him.

There was a train just arriving on the track as Bully leaped down to the platform, and he felt his heart soar at the sight of it. For just a second, he very nearly felt better at the comfortable thought of finally being on his way back home, but once again he was almost run over by a stampede of big clompy boots, stampeding into the cars the instant the subway doors whooshed open with a pneumatic hiss. Bully pressed and shoved—but even as small as he was, he couldn't squeeze into the car.

He held his breath, trying to make himself thinner, and straightened his neck upwards to make himself taller...

...just in time to see the big doors closing right in on him.

Bully shrieked and gasped as he leaped out of their way back onto the platform, the big rubber gaskets that surrounded the doors clipping at his scarf. For a moment he thought he was caught and would be dragged along beside the train down the dirty, dark tunnel all the way to 23rd Street (at which point the doors would open and Bully would fall down into the deep dark wet creepy gaps between the tracks...). He was so scared that he almost didn't notice at first that his scarf had untangled itself off from his neck. It was caught in the door but he was loose and free, and he gasped for breath as the train pulled out of the station, his beautiful scarf dangling from the door, roaring away down the tunnel, back towards Brooklyn, away towards home.

And Bully did exactly what you or I would have done if we'd gone through such a terrible day, even if that day was Christmas Eve: he sat down on the platform and cried.

"Why so glum, little chum?!" a cheerful, ebullient voice boomed above him, and Bully looked up in surprise at the speaker: an older man with a broad, expressive face, balding but grey hair (gone white at the temples) and bushy grey mustache, wearing shaded sunglasses that didn't hide the twinkle in his eyes. He bent down and kneeled on the subway platform next to Bully. "Face front, true believer! This is no place to have a bawl!" He pulled a large handkerchief out of his pocket and passed it to Bully.

Bully took the handkerchief and blew his nose with a messy snort, guiltily folding the cloth back inside itself so the sticky part wasn't on the outside when he handed it back. "Thanks, Mister," he said. He knew, of course, that he wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. He was alert and aware and ready to scamper away at a moment's notice, but something about the man was familiar and friendly, and while you all should remember just because somebody lends you a handkerchief it doesn't mean they're your pal, Bully suddenly felt just a little less stressed and upset.

"There!" The man smiled and gave him a thumbs up as he tucked away the handkerchief. "Isn't that better than causing a commotion, oh fearlessly frantic one?! It's a big fantastic, amazing, incredible, uncanny world out there, and a boisterously bullish bovine like yourself should be out having some Christmas Eve adventures, not sniffling sadly in the subway!" Bully realized that the man wasn't raising his voice, wasn't yelling, although every single sentence he spoke seemed to have an exclamation mark at the end of it. "No need to wet those baby blues! Remember, it's always darkest before the dawn, tiger, 'specially if you forgot to pay your light bill!" Bully started to speak, but the man was on a roll and there was no interrupting him. "Don't let a little setback stop that action! Stand a little straighter! Walk a little prouder! Be an innovator! Clap a little louder! Grow forever greater, frantic one!"

"I..." Bully started to say.

"Face front!" the man continued boisterously. "Lift your head! Make some friends! You're on the winning team! You're the ever-lovin' tip-top greatest, true bulliever! And always remember: with great power comes great responsibility! Well, I'm outta here!" He straightened up and strode away on his long legs. "Stay fearless, fuzzy one! Nuff said!" the man called as he disappeared down the platform, and then echoed after: "Excelsior!"

After the man left, Bully sat there for a long time. It seemed like hours to him, although it surely couldn't have been—but no more trains arrived and no people pushed and shoved at him to get on it. In the time that Bully had sat, shivering in the suddenly very cold subway, he thought maybe he had missed Christmas entirely, that it had gone past him just like the train, and that no one would ever see him there on the platform, and that would be where he always lived, on the B-D-F-V platform of the 34th Street subway, fighting sewer rats for bread crumbs, sleeping in a greasy old discarded Big Mac box, and never, ever again getting to sit in a comfortable puffy bowl of his favorite cereal.

Despite the momentary enthusiastic cheer the strange man had given him, that thought started him sniffling once again, and he had never felt so alone in his life.

"Hello!" said someone, a bright and cheerful female voice this time. "What are you sniffing about?"

Bully looked up in surprise in mid-sniffle. He saw no one at all.

"Down here, silly!" the voice said, giggling.

Bully wiped his nose on the sleeve of his duffel coat, sopping up the tears that had started to well up on his nose ring ,and looked down at the train tracks.

There, standing between the first two rails, staring up at him with big bright blue eyes and a curious smile, was a large orange pig.

Tomorrow night: Part 8! (Just the thing to settle down with after you've whipped through your Wednesday new comics!)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 6

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

Parts 1-5 are here!

Part 6: Last-Minute Purchases


Bully felt light-headed and rocked back and forth unsteadily on his hooves. He examined the other two comics. Each was labeled. “REPRINTS FANTASTIC FOUR #48.” “REPRINTS FANTASTIC FOUR #50.“ His tail swished back and forth in involuntary excitement. Reprints! Reprints of the Galactus Trilogy! Hooray for reprints!

Bully climbed up onto the short box next to the books and stared, entranced, at the worn but glossy comics snugly sealed inside Mylar. The Silver Surfer soared, the Human Torch blazed, and the Thing clobbered their ways across the covers. That wasn’t Kirby art on the covers, for sure, but the labels promised authentic Kirby goodness inside, four-color treasures mixed into every shade of the rainbow, more brilliant and vibrant colors than even Bully could imagine (and he had the Crayola 64-crayon assortment box with sharpener). Glossy silver chrome, brilliant uniform blue, burning-hot red, pretty pretty blonde, hard rocky orange, and some colors Bully couldn't even begin to describe, exotic variations on the spectrum that he could find no words for and which actually hurt his head a little to look at. There were more colors here than the marshmallows in a box of Lucky Charms. The bright bold lettering on each comic read MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS, and Bully realized that maybe this were the most aptly titled comic series after all: truly, he coule think of no better phrase to describe these miraculous comics than greatest.

He grabbed at the three bagged comics and held them closely to his chest, staring around nervously. Nobody better try to buy these first! he declared mentally, and his little black buttons eyes darted around suspiciously at the other customers. “Mine!” he squeaked, “Mine!”


And then Bully did something, a little thing, something he didn't expect to, didn't consciously intend to do, but so overwhelming was the allure of those comics—the comics he had been dreaming of for months, no, even better than the comics he'd merely dreamt of, because now he actually was this close to owning them—that later on he would admit, with a little bit of shame and holding his horns low, that he really didn't know what he was doing, even though he did.

No! He didn't steal them! Whatever are you thinking?! Bully could no more steal something than he could fly to the moon. (Shame on you!)

What he did was this:

He leapt down from the box, clutching the comics in both arms and, as deliriously happy as a clam who has escaped a fish fry, Bully trotted off to the cashier.

If it had been any other day than Christmas Eve, five minutes before store closing, maybe the girl at the cash register would have noticed that her customer was a little stuffed bull. But by this hour on the busiest shopping day of the year, all she noticed was that he customer was a little short and she had to absently reach down and pluck up the three back issues from his hands (hands? she thought a few minutes later, her forehead scrunching in puzzlement), and ring them up. "Cash or charge?" she recited wearily, and a shower of change tinkled down onto the counter as those hands (hands?) turned over a little red plastic change purse and shook it out empty.

She counted out the crumpled ten dollar bill and a small pile of change, mostly dimes, consulted the register read-out again, and then with swift, practiced gestures, swept most of the change into her drawer, pushed back a few lonely coins into the change purse, and plopped a plastic bag with the comics and the receipt into the customer's hands (ummmm...hands?), and turned to help the next in her growing line of last-minute customers.

Bully stared dumbstruck at the five coins that jingled meagerly in his purse. "Excuse me, miss!" he said, his voice squeaking in nervous excitement. "Excuse me!" But the noise of a shouting customer above drowned out Bully's plaintive cry, and he wandered dizzily over to a display of plush Spider-Man and Hulk dolls and plopped, confused, on a thick cushion of sateen that gave him no comfort at all.

No matter how many times he counted the five coins—and he counted slowly and deliberately—they always added up to a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and two pennies. He laboriously did the sums in his head—doing sums is much more difficult without fingers to count on—and each time he arrived at exactly forty-two cents left in his purse.

Forty-two cents!

He pulled out the receipt for the books and peered at it, scarcely believing what he saw printed at the bottom of the flimsy slip of paper:

BACK ISSUES: 3 @ $5.00
TAX: $1.31
TOTAL: $16.31.

Bully stared at the paper until the store lights flashed on and off rapidly. Even he could understand that forty-two cents would not buy him a single pog, much less a Christmas comic book gift for anyone.

He stared up in despair at a cardboard Batman with a Santa Claus hat decoration hanging over his head suspended from the ceiling, and suddenly little Bully felt enormously ashamed. He had spent his Christmas money—very nearly all his Christmas money—on himself.

On himself!

An even deeper and darker dread fell over Bully as he sat there, and it licked at the corners of his brain. He’d had $6.73 in his change purse. How had he afforded something that cost $16.31…

Uh oh.

Bully let out an audible gulp of shock and fear as he remembered Mister Victor pushing the ratty old ten dollar bill out the crack of the doorway at him. He was so overwhelmed with shock that he couldn’t even remember now what Mister Victor had told him to pick up, but he was fairly certain it maybe wasn’t comic books. Probably not.

He wondered briefly if Mister Victor would enjoy some Fantastic Four comic books. He wasn’t sure. Mister Victor didn’t seem like the sort of guy who liked fun stuff, especially classic comic books, but then again, nobody doesn’t like Reed Richard and company, right? Even that would be a delightful surprise for Mister Victor, wouldn’t it? The neighbor wouldn’t be mad at him if he showed up with some Ben Grimm-filled magazines, right? After all, it was Kirby. Kirby!

But even if he could placate Mister Victor with comics, he still had no gifts for Marshall and Blackie and Snuckles and Ox and John, and, to make it even worse, he'd gotten himself one instead. Bully now felt very small, and Santa-Batman glared down at him as if he were the naughtiest little bull in the world, a cowardly, superstitious thief. Which indeed he felt very much like.

The crowd in the store had thinned out; maybe now he could go up to the cashier, give back the comics, get his money back—but as he moved forward he was once more caught in a last rush of people moving towards the exit, and Bully found himself pushed and shoved and driven down and out until he stood on the sidewalk outside Jim Hanley’s, snow falling heavily on him. He made one last attempt to move back into the store, but the doors swung shut with a loud thunk and inside, Larry the Golden Age Guy locked the doors and hung up a sign: CLOSED: MERRY CHRISTMAS.

It was almost dark out now, but the bright Christmas lights of the Empire State Building did not cheer Bully as he slowly trudged down Thirty-Third Street back to the subway.

Oh no! Who will save Christmas now? Join us tomorrow for Part 7!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ten of a Kind: All You Need is Comics

(More Ten of a Kind here.)