Copywriting Freelance: Profit and Prosper Without Pants | Intro

This is the intro to an eBook I am writing about the joys and challenges of freelance copywriting. I love writing freelance. Have made a good living at it. And want to help others do the same.

“Can I thrive, even survive, as a freelance copywriter?,” you ask. Yes, you can.

You can make a difference with your writing powers.

You can move minds, heal hearts, invoke smiles, and sometimes unleash an unexpected laugh.

And you can make a real living at it. Not buy-a-small-country living, but buy a cool house living, and gosh darn it, aren’t all our homes our small countries?

Best of all, day and night, you can concentrate on the work, not the illusions and kabuki theatre of work, like, say, status meetings.

You know. “Huddles.”

You can stay home. And jam in your jammies.

It’s a little thing I like to call…

Copywriting freelance.

And I’m here to walk you through it.

Hello.

I’m Walt Jaschek, AKA Walt Now.

And I’ve had a long career as a freelance copywriter, profiting and prospering without pants.

But let’s talk about you.

Perhaps you are sitting in ad agency, working already as a copywriter. Sure, you love exposed brick as much as anybody. And that glow-in-the-dark pool table is a fun distraction. But you’d actually like to write.

You know Steve in traffic? You know how he shows up at 4 p.m. and asks for the status of your copy? And then asks your to list your favorite Zombie movies in alpha order? Steve is the obstacle to Deep Work.

Steves are always the obstacles of Deep Work.

Perhaps you are already a freelance copywriter by choice.

Or perhaps you are already a freelance copywriter by circumstance.

Congratulations to the former for seeing the light and making that jump. Leap and the net will appear, I say. Or somebody said, and I agree.

And if you’re a “circumstance” freelancer, relax. You’ve got this. I promise that, with the right mindset, you will get more done at home then you could ever accomplished in a cube.

And with that higher productivity comes the ability to (1) charge more for your hours, and (2) bill for more of them.

But we’ll get to that.

Perhaps you are a student in the realms of marketing, advertising, communications, creative writing or languages, starting to define yourself as a copywriter. You wonder if freelancing might extend the life of a student into the world of work.

Ha! It so will. My home office is half dorm. Step around that rebounder.

But to you, grads and undergrads, I say do not go directly into freelance writing as a career. You must first taste the Corp Rut. I mean, corporate. You must experience the office, as in, The Office, to make the kind of human connections you will need when you go rouge.

You will also develop a sense of agency-as-absurdity that will help you when writing like a caffeinated commander at your kitchen table.

So this book, students, is for you to read when you’re already in That First Job. Or Second. Scroll it on your phone as you savor Sauce on the Side.

To existing copywriters then, this book is dedicated. Congratulations on being a keyboard wizard, for using your powers to turn letters into words, words into sentences, heads into the stratosphere, and hearts into mush. (I see you, Ms. Senior Writer at Hallmark.)

If you are curious about the perspective of a copywriter who has managed to freelance almost exclusively for more than 30 years…

Who has put a couple of kids through college, funded multiple mortgages, bought tons of comic books yet managed to save for semi-retirement…

And who now wants to find the right mix of encouragement and practical advice for you on your freelance copywriting journey…

Here we go.

Can I really do this?, you ask. To repeat my central theme:

Yes, you can.

Next: All it takes is talent. And luck.

“Freelance Copywriter Steals Show.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February, 1989

Walt Jaschek is a champion of great copywriting. As creative collaborator, mentor, and freelance copywriter, he pushes to craft memorable stories with humor, pizazz and verve. For his award-winning, national ad campaigns for global brands, he was inducted by the St. Louis Media History Foundation into the city’s advertising and PR Hall of Fame. A life-long freelancer, he is declaring “I’m not history yet,” and is still open to juicy writing and consulting assignments, especially for friends and family.

St. Louis V.I.P: Jaschek Wins With Humor

This post transcribes an interview with me from Advertising Age in 1989, when my taste in funny advertising exceeded my taste in ski sweaters. That photo, oy! Did I not own a normal shirt?

Article transcribed from the version published in Advertising Age magazine, March 19, 1989.

BY JUDITH VANDEWATER

ST. LOUIS – Walter Jaschek assesses his sudden stardom with this rhyme:

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful
I don’t want to sound like a jerk
But instead of all the ad awards
I’d like a little work.”

The work will likely come. Last month, Jaschek, 33, a little-known copywriter, surprised the local ad community by winning two of the four “Best of Show” awards at the Advertising Club of St. Louis’ Addy competition (AA, Feb. 27.)

He won in the radio category for English- and Spanish-language versions of “Laugh Catalog,” a 60-second commercial for King World’s syndicated TV show, “George Schlatter’s Comedy Club.”

In the print collateral category, Mr. Jaschek won for the funny “Warm, Personal Letter: – a form letter with blank spaces for the recipient’s name to be written in – used to promote his agency.

Mr. Jaschek, who runs his two-person shop, Jaschek Ink, out of an office in his basement, won five Addys for three last-minute entries.

His agency partner is his wife, Jackie, who handled the business side.

Might success spoil the shop?

“[Anheuser-Busch Chairman] August A. Busch III hasn’t called yet, but I wouldn’t want to take Budweiser away from D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles,” Mr. Jaschek said.

Actually, he worked on the Bud account for DMB&B, helping develop a direct-mail piece now under A-B consideration, he said. He has also done projects for his former employer, Southwestern Bell Corp. Mr. Jaschek quit as an advertising manager there last year. “I just woke up one day and I said, ‘People should not do what they are good at; people should do what they are great at.”

Mr. Jaschek has collaborated with Paul Fey, and independent producer in Los Angeles, on several radio commercials, including the “Comedy Club” radio spot, a catalog of distinctly funny laughs.

Messrs. Jaschek and Fey waltzed away with their first “Best of Show” Addy radio spot 2 years ago. The spot, “Subliminal Seduction,” was created for a Denver restaurant, but it also been sold to Menage, a local dance club.

Related:

A Big Hand For The Little Agency: Adweek Magazine

Walt Jaschek and His Basement Humor: St. Louis Business Journal

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My Copywriting Tips and Advice from 1984

“Positioning + creativity + guts = effect.” That was my formula for successful advertising, as quoted in this 1984 article from the Colorado Springs Business Journal by Ron Wallace. I was 29 years old.

The Ad Vantage: On Words And Up Words
“Positioning + creativity + guts = effect”
By Ron Wallace
Colorado Springs Business Journal, January, 1984

Almost every hour of the day we are a candidate for hearing a message from a total stranger. When we wake to the radio alarm, drive in the car, read the paper, or watch television, we are constantly bombarded by message from anonymous copywriters who urge us, one way or another, to buy someone’s product or service.

I recently met with three of the best local copywriters, Steve Haggart and Tom Bulloch of Bulloch & Haggart Advertising, and Walt Jaschek, creative director of The Flynn Group, to discuss the role of copywriting in the marketing process.

What is copywriting? According to Walt Jaschek, writer of the commercial that won best-of-show at the Pikes Peak Advertising Federation awards presentation, “Copywriting is the science and art of transforming concepts into words and pictures. It is the process of communicating information, of taking a specific message and telling it to a recipient in an attempt to get the individual to act upon the message. Copywriting is not just words. It is creating the concept that will trigger an emotional or intellectual response in a particular audience, and it is the writing of the words themselves.”

A similar definition was given by Steve Haggart. “On a basic level, copywriting is writing the words that appear. It begins with a selling concept, a basic decision about how the product is going to be shown. The creative concept is very much intertwined with the writing of the words.”

A print ad for Cedar Heights home sites, written by Walt Jaschek of The Flynn Group of Colorado Springs

Like A Lawyer Presenting A Case

Tom Bulloch adds, “Copywriting is like a lawyer presenting a case. There is a statement of the problem and a solution provided.” So, in short, copywriting is the hand of the marketing process that makes the message real and get it down on paper to be produced so that we can read it, hear it, and see it.

For Walt Jaschek, copywriting propels the abstract into the tangible. First, says Jaschek, comes the research, then the marketing positioning and finally writing the ad. That’s the key that turns the system. Both Haggart and Jaschek feel that marketing strength and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

“In copywriting, there is a symbiosis of marketing information and an expression of relevant information the audience needs to know,” says Bulloch. “It’s really hard to see where art stops and the copy begins. Sometimes we couldn’t tell you who came with layout or copy headline, and those have been our best ads.”

Just as marketing research and positioning have to work with copywriting to achieve the communication goal, art and words also have to work together in a good ad. “In the best advertising, you can’t really separate the warmth from the selling message,” says Haggart. “How can you separate the marketing concept, the idea you’re trying to get across, from the execution? They’re too closely related.”

Create A Shared Space With The Audience

Copywriting is an important profession, because it so directly works to stimulate the economy. So what type of people become copywriters? “Anyone who has an acumen for translating concepts into language in a compelling ways,” is Jaschek’s answer. He also says that honesty is of utmost importance in the advertising process.

“What I like to do is create a temporary space, share with an individual member of the audience, and use their intelligence as a tool to understanding the message even more. For example, in the Baron’s Saloon “Subliminal Seduction” radio commercial, we were simply saying that, whatever technique we use to get your attention, the core message is, we’d like you try Baron’s.

“Subliminal Seduction” | Radio spot for Baron’s Saloon, Colorado Springs | Written & Produced by Walt Jaschek

“The best copywriters know a lot about life,” says Bulloch. “They know what language people use. They know a little bit about a lot of things.”

Haggart says, “Curiosity and a willingness to ask questions marks the type of person that becomes a copywriter, along with the sheer ability and enjoyment of putting ideas into words.”

What happens if a client doesn’t like the advertisement but the copywriter thinks it will sell? Both agencies take a strong stand for their ideas. They present the campaigns to their clients after much thought, and say, this is why we think it will work for you.

“A doctor can argue with you that you need your appendix taken out,” says Bulloch. “You may not want that but that doesn’t change the fact that you went to him for his opinion, you think he’s good, and you need it taken out.”

There are many rules to follow in advertising. An Ogilvy disciple is respected by all. “The main rule,” says Haggart, “is to take an offer and make it as attractive as possible by pointing out how well it solves the problem – dramatize it.”

Creative Director Walt Jaschek concocts new creative ideas from a perch in the Garden of the Gods, overlooking Colorado Springs, 1983.
Photo by Bill McMullan.

The Jaschek Equation

Jaschek’s rule for successful advertising is, “positioning plus creativity plus guts equals effect.” In order word, he says: understand your product’s unique selling position. Communicate that with creativity. And take some chances.

“A lot of people believe the standard for good marketing is to do what everybody else is doing; that’s safe. It’s like the saying, ‘nobody gets fired for hiring IBM.’ But nobody gets remembered for doing that, either.”

What is the rule of typography in copywriting? Jaschek says it is tremendously important. The typeface, the amount of white space one uses, is crucial how the words are read. The type should complement the method and Haggart points out that the size of ad and what one has to work with often designates the typography.

When asked, at what level of sophistication is Colorado Springs’ advertising, compared to towns of its size, all felt there was a great deal of good work coming out of this market. “For towns of its size, Colorado Springs is way ahead,” says Jaschek.

“Good advertising and good agencies depend of good clients,” says Haggart. “If, like Topeka, Kansas, Colorado Springs was the capital of the state, then there would be larger companies based here and even stronger advertising.”

What’s the worst thing one can do in advertising? “Insult the readers’ intelligence,” says Jaschek. “It’s a mistake to assume that the audience won’t understand. Use the audience’s intelligence, imagination, perception and awareness for you.”

Get the Address Right

A different but equally sound answer was given by Steve Haggart. “Leaving the client’s name or address off is the worse thing you can do, or otherwise make it impossible for the prospect to buy your product.”

And finally, what advice do these copywriters have for the small businessman or woman who can’t really afford a large agency? All agreed that they should get some sort of professional consultation from a freelance copywriter, a media representative, or an ad agency. Contacting a good agency for just two hours of their time might provide a solid marketing understanding of the business and a direction to pursue.

“Ask other businessmen for their advice,” says Tom Bulloch, “and above all, when a plan is made, stick to it.”

So, as you hear advertisement copy throughout the day, know that copywriters work to use their marketing expertise and creative imagination to not just sell you product, but to talk to you like your best friend.

List of Colorado Springs ADDY winners, 1983. Jaschek’s radio spot for Baron’s Saloon won “Best of Show.”

Related: Radio’s Word Magic | Article from the Colorado Springs Sun, 1983

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How Jerry Berger Rocket-Boosted My Career

Copywriter Walt Jaschek remembers St. Louis Post-Dispatch ad columnist Jerry Berger, and being lifted from obscurity by the reporter’s generous coverage.

Certain graces boost us in our careers, inadvertently or otherwise.

In my career, one of those graces was named Jerry.

Newspaper writer Jerry Berger (1933-2021) was on the advertising and marketing beat for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1980s and 1990s. He wrote a hefty weekly column on the St. Louis ad biz, and probably hundreds of stand-alone articles on the region’s agencies, clients, campaigns, hires, wins and losses. This is also the era when I, in my early 30s, left corporate life and opened my own freelance ad agency, soon teaming with college buddy and producer Paul Fey as Paul & Walt Worldwide.

In those days, I came to talk to Jerry Berger frequently. That’s because he called me frequently.

It all started when I had an extraordinary bit of luck my first year in business, unexpectedly winning big at the 1989 St. Louis Addy Awards, the ad biz competition. I didn’t know Jerry then – we hadn’t yet met – but morning after the Feb. 16 gala, I woke up to this article on the Post’s business page, and a lot of phone calls because of it.

A few days later, much of the same info was included in Jerry’s regular Monday “Advertising/Marketing” column, including a pic of me with some Ad Club executives Roy Saunders, Glennon Jamboretz and Bill Metzer.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1989

Here’s a closer look of that photo: it includes 33-year-old me with a deer-in-the-headlights expression, trying to keep it cool among industry luminaries. I didn’t know what was about to hit me. (Genuinely didn’t know: the club hinted that I needed to be at the event, but didn’t tell me I would have to improvise thank-you remarks before that crowd of 1400.) (But I did.)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1989

Shortly after this blitz of publicity about my bizarre Addy luck, including articles in Adweek, The St. Louis Business Journal and elsewhere, Jerry seemed to designate me continually newsworthy. In March, 1989, he phoned me from the Post-Dispatch newsroom and asked me to come down so we could meet face-to-face. Though on a deadline, I knew I couldn’t resist making that connection. I zipped from my “South Side shop” (a basement in a house in the city’s Clifton Heights neighborhood) to the PD. He greeted me at his office, sizing me up. “You’re just a pup!,” he said. He had about 20 years on me, I guess.

But we hit it off, and soon, I was in his rolodex as a source. A few weeks later, as one of my comic book stories was being published in a Marvel Comics humor book, I woke up to this lede on his Saturday “gossip” column – which appeared in addition to all his other columns. Prolific, thy name was Jerry.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 1989

I think now of Steve Martin in The Jerk when the new phone book arrives. Flipping through the pages, Steve’s character assures himself, “This is the kind of publicity that can make or break a person.” That morning, truth to tell, I was a little embarrassed. My feature in What Th–? wasn’t breaking news. But I soon relaxed into the flow of being a source and tried to stay cool when Jerry would call out of the blue looking for something worthy of a few column inches. I attempted to be immediately interesting, not always easy. (“What AM I working on?,” I would think.) I could hear Jerry typing as I talked. That’s how it was done; it’s how he generated so much content. In April, 1989, I was (evidently) working on spots for “Wheel of Fortune.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 24, 1989

Jerry also had a “Radio Talk” column for the Post-Dispatch, focusing on just that medium. (The fact that radio was a big enough deal to get its own coverage is very impressive, in retrospect.) In March, 1990, there was a big story for St. Louis radio: storied KMOX leader Robert Hyland was being honored as media person of the year by the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis. About Hyland, Jerry cheekily wrote:

How about an award, too, as self-marketer of the century? Let’s face it – ask 10 people on the streets of Manhattan to identify Laurence Tisch and maybe one will connect him with CBS. … Ask 10 people on the streets of St. Louis to identify Hyland, and at least nine will associate him in some way or another with KMOX radio…”

Jerry Berger

But who did Jerry call to fill out the column on this radio industry legend? The “pup” in his “South Side shop!”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 1, 1990

What a lucky dog I was. I knew it then, I know it now. Small businesses and start-ups hunger for publicity; now they flood social, but before the internet, they sent out voluminous press releases, hoping to snag an editor’s eye for an iota of coverage. Me? I just had to sit near the phone.

By 1991, thanks to Paul’s great relationship with the CBS television network and his ongoing, successful work for them, we together were producing national radio campaigns for its prime-time line-up. Paul was in Hollywood, working closely with the network’s promo department, but I was still in my basement on the “South Side” on St. Louis, faxing in scripts daily. Every once in a while we would head off together, as in June of that year, when we were in person at the CBS affiliate meeting. Just before I left for Lambert, Jerry Berger called. And the next morning, this led the column.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June, 1991

CBS ad campaigns like this resulted from meetings like that.

This miracle of many mentions continued until Jerry retired later in the 90s, and his advertising and marketing column was handed off to writer Oscar Waters, who was also generous in his coverage of our creative journey. Here’s an example of his coverage of our radio campaign for The Simpsons.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1994

But it is Jerry I credit, with immense appreciation, for noticing our work, caring about it, and presenting it often to his readers as worthy of newsprint.

Jerry left us in January of this year after a long illness. I hope he is at peace. I thanked him frequently back then, and this is me publicly thanking him now, as he no doubt works a roledex in heaven, typing, typing, typing as angels dictate the day’s celestial scoops.

Many graces lift our careers, planned and unplanned, over the years.

One of my graces really knew how to work the phone.

I’m glad I picked up.

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The Date
The Drive
The Class
The Court
The Bar
The Date
The Date

See also:
Corp Rut
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The story opens with narration by our hero, Lola Langly, a gal on the go. Here’s where she went.

Corp Rut page 1
Corp Rut page 2

Here’s the appearance of this feature on the cover of Slightly Bent Comics #2. The cover was designed by Walt. Tony did the illustration for the Corp Rut panel.

Readers! Don’t you think Corp Rut™ deserves to come back as an ongoing strip? An animated cartoon? A sitcom on a streaming service near you? Comment and we’ll get to it!

Meanwhile, back to your cubes, Corp Rut middle managers!

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Danger Dad™ Superhero Parody, 1998

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Danger Dad™ logo by Walt Jaschek

“Stop and Think!” That’s the motto of the over-protective parent Danger Dad, a parody superhero created by St. Louis writer and humorist Walt Jaschek. “At the time, I had a young, growing family, and I had a reputation for worrying about the dangers all Dads fret about: sharp objects, falls, accidents, etc. Taking it to a humorous exaggeration, I imagined a normal Dad, tugging his tie, transforming into the ultimate protector.”

Here is Danger Dad’s first comic strip appearance, from Slightly Bent Comics #1, 1998, which was sold in comic book shops across the United States that year. In it, Wilber Blane transforms into his alter-ego in order to (gasp!) change a tire.

Danger Dad from Slightly Bent Comics #1

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And here is Danger Dad’s second appearance, in Slightly Bent Comics #2, also 1998. (Art by St. Louis comics illustrator Darren Goodhart.) In it, Wilber Blane must summon his powers to find a contact lens adrift in the neighborhood pool.

Danger Dad from Slightly Bent Comics #2

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Danger Dad™ illustration by Walt Jaschek

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Slightly Bent #1 and #2 are black-and-white anthology comics written by Walt Jaschek, starring creator-owned characters. Top St. Louis comic artists supplied visuals. This 2-issue series, self-published as “Slightly Bent Entertainment,” was distributed by Diamond Comic Distributors to comic books stores across the United States in 1998. Walt Jaschek designed the Slightly Bent logo and … Continue reading Slightly Bent Comics: Mall Cop, Dude-Guy, Danger Dad & More

Slightly Bent Comics: Mall Cop, Dude-Guy, Danger Dad & More

Slightly Bent #1 and #2 are black-and-white anthology comics written by Walt Jaschek, starring creator-owned characters. Top St. Louis comic artists supplied visuals.

This 2-issue series, self-published as “Slightly Bent Entertainment,” was distributed by Diamond Comic Distributors to comic books stores across the United States in 1998. Walt Jaschek designed the Slightly Bent logo and the covers, and hired his talented friends to draw scripts for his creator-owned characters. Don Secrease served as art director on both books.

The comics feature the second and third print appearances of the original Mall Cop, Mel Cop, with art by Secrease. They also showcase the first appearances of Dude-Guy, with art by Craig Skaggs; Danger Dad, with art by Jaschek and Darren Goodheart; Corp Rut™ and Smirk Du Jour, with art by Tony Patti; Attorneys in Space, with art by Paul Daly; and Those Dang Gnats, a comic strip by Jaschek, who also wrote humorous editorials for both issues.

Reviews of these issues are on Steve’s Reads and on Flooby.

Buy Slightly Bent Comics on Walt Now Comics

Says Walt: “The series was a fun experiment, a deep-dive immersion into self-publishing during the black-and-white comics boom, and a launch for characters and concepts bouncing around in my brain. It was also a nice, creative distraction from my day job writing funny radio commercials.

Approximately 800 copies of Slightly Bent Comics #1 were ordered by comic book stories, according to statistics from Diamond. Approximately 400 copies of issue #2 were ordered. These are the only copies of these two issues in circulation. Some issues are often spotted on eBay and other “back issue” platforms.

Here are select pages from the two issues. The characters and pages are © copyright 1997-2022 Walt Jaschek and the respective artists.

Slightly Bent Comics 1 cover
Slightly Bent Comics 1 inside front cover
Slightly Bent Comics #1 | contents page
Slightly Bent 1 Dude-Guy

Read more about Dude-Guy.

Slightly Bent Comics #1 | Mel Cool: Mall Cop

Read more about Mel Cool: Mall Cop.

Slightly Bent #1 | Smirk Du Jour

See more Smirk Du Jour comics.

Slightly Bent #1 | Attorneys in Space

More information on Attorneys in Space.

Slightly Bent #1 back cover
Slightly Bent Comics #2 cover
Slightly Bent #2 contents page
Slightly Bent #2 | Due-Guy recap
Slightly Bent #2 | Danger Dad™

Here’s more information about Danger Dad.™

Slightly Bent #2 | Corp Rut

Here’s more of Corp Rut™.

Slightly Bent Comics 2 back cover

Buy Slightly Bent Comics on Walt Now Comics

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Danger Dad™ Superhero Parody, 1998

Danger Dad™, the superhero with “paternal parent power,” was created by Walt Jaschek and first appeared in Slightly Bent Comics, 1998. Here are two of the strips. “Stop and Think!” That’s the motto of the over-protective parent Danger Dad, a parody superhero created by St. Louis writer and humorist Walt Jaschek. “At the time, I … Continue reading Danger Dad™ Superhero Parody, 1998

Jim Theis “Conan the Barbarian” Comic Review in GRAFAN 9, 1971

In “A Tale of Two Conans,” heroic fiction fan/student Jim Theis (“Eye of Argon”) casts a critical eye at Marvel Comics’ newly launched Robert E. Howard adaptation (1971.) Swords clash. Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 9, May, 1971GRAFAN 9 is for sale as digital download pdf.Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, Missouri18 mimeograph pages + wraparound coverCirculation: … Continue reading Jim Theis “Conan the Barbarian” Comic Review in GRAFAN 9, 1971

James Theis’ “Eye of Argon” sequel in Son of Grafan 13, 1972

Some in fandom think “Eye of Argon” author Jim Theis “never wrote anything again.” Not true. He wrote at least one more Grignr the Barbarian story, “The Sacred Crest.” Son of Grafan 13 printed part of it. As the 17-year-old editor of the May, 1972, issue of SON OF GRAFAN, the mimeograph newsletter of the … Continue reading James Theis’ “Eye of Argon” sequel in Son of Grafan 13, 1972

Jim Theis “Conan the Barbarian” Comic Review in GRAFAN 9, 1971

In “A Tale of Two Conans,” heroic fiction fan/student Jim Theis (“Eye of Argon”) casts a critical eye at Marvel Comics’ newly launched Robert E. Howard adaptation (1971.) Swords clash.

GRAFAN 9 cover

Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 9, May, 1971
GRAFAN 9 is for sale as digital download pdf.
Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, Missouri
18 mimeograph pages + wraparound cover
Circulation: < 100 copies
Editor: Steve Houska
Cover by: Larry Todd
Main feature: “A Tale of Two Conans,” a review of the new Marvel Comic “Conan the Barbarian” series
Additional features: Editorial, Fandom Report by Mike McFadden
Comic-related book reviews by Dev Hanke and Tom Zygmunt
Fredric Wertham interview by Len McFadden and Walt Jaschek
Letters from Dennis Rogers, Charles Spanier, Tim Seidler, Ed Spring, Tiny McClemmons
Poem by Ed Spring
Inside Back Cover by Joe Caporale
Back Cover by George Barr
Mimeograph production: Walt Stumper

GRAFAN 9 inside cover

I’m listed as “Editor Emeritus” on the inside cover of this, the 9th issue of GRAFAN, but I remember having a hand in much of it, especially the Fredric Wertham interview, and the presentation of Jim Theis’ Conan comic review. [See below.] The issue opens with an editorial by Mike McFadden, and a comprehensive “Fandom Report” on club meetings and other fan-related activities, including cons in other cities.

GRAFAN 9 page 4

Page 6 begins a Fredric Wertham interview I had conducted by mail with questions submitted by Len McFadden and me. Dr. Wertham and I had earlier struck up a friendly correspondence when he subscribed to a previous fanzine I published; from that experience, a few paragraphs of my writing ended up in his subsequent book, The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication.

GRAFAN 9 page 6

By page 9, we come to the main feature, the James Theis review of Marvel’s new Conan the Barbarian comic book series. The header illustration is by Mike McFadden, and the headline is by me. In 1971, 18-year-old Jim was a huge fan of Robert E. Howard, had read every piece of Conan content out there, had written his own heroic fiction (“Eye of Argon,” starring Grignr the Barbarian, published in another zine, OSFAN) and was the most qualified among us to address the potentials and pitfalls of the Roy Thomas/Barry Smith comic adaptation.

GRAFAN 9 page 11

The review begins:

Recently comic books have acquired a new character who has no need for the isolated telephone booth or computerized lab: Robert E. Howard’s bloody barbarian – Conan – is here. However, many of Howard’s techniques are purely literary, and as such, are inapplicable to graphic story form. The comic book writer is necessarily limited to those aspected of a character which can be rendered both visually and literarily – he cannot really develop either quality completely. Therefore, Barry Smith and Roy Thomas are fared with the necessity of separating those unusable qualities from the usable. Here, unfortunately, they have fallen short.

Jim Theis

GRAFAN 9 page 12

Jim takes lengthy exception to the choices and execution of writer Roy Thomas, seeing the Marvel adaptation something other than the Conan readers came to know in the pulps and paperbacks.

Howard depicted Conan as the brooding savage. Conan seldom spoke, and when he did, it seemed incongruous with his character. Thomas’ Conan, however, babbles incessantly. I realize this is necessary, in part, to move the plot, yet Thomas could produce more coherent adaptations by moving his stories through the dialogue of other characters. Possibly, this action is nothing more than an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to transform Conan into a common superhero.

Speaking of superheroes, the review is interrupted by this full-page pin-up, penciller Mohow, inker Mike McFadden, reproduced in the glory of what was then known as the “electro-stencil.”

GRAFAN 9 page 12

After this interlude, Jim has much more to say about the comic, including Barry Smith’s art, “which, unfortunately, illustrates towns with bright, colorful towers which reek of gaety and good cheer … Smith totally destroys the atmostphere.”

Then, after a recognition of the impact on this series of the restrictive Comics Code, making it “necessary for the artist and writer to improvise,” Jim comes to this conclusion.

Room still stands for the argument of whether or not Marvel’s free adaptations are legitimate and worthwhile. Certainly, they have been approved by such people as Glenn Lord. However, Lord, though the manager of the Howard estate, is not Robert E. Howard. Robert E. Howard created Conan, along with ab entire entire world, equipped with workable governments, racial strains, geographic features, etc., and did not give permission to any others to utilize their creations. Thusly, since Howard is no longer alive to give permission, I believe that his memory should be honored to the extent of accurate adaptations.

Jim Theis

Followers of the Jim Theis story and his treatment post-mortem might find extra nuance in that sentiment.

The issue keeps going, including a robust letters column…

GRAFAN 9 page 14

…and concludes with this delicate ballpoint convention sketch from the amazing George Barr, a science fiction and fantasy artist whose work has graced hundred of pulps, magazines, books and gaming kits.

GRAFAN 9 back cover

I thought “A Tale of Two Conans” was a smart, informed review when it was published, and I still think so now. I squirm at the misspellings and typos – hard to know which was the work of 18-year-old Jim or us 17-year-old typists – but if a college freshman had cleaned this up and submitted it to an introductory English class, it would have gotten an “A.” Or maybe an “B+” It was also refreshing to read a critique that came from a less gushing “Make Mine Marvel” point of view than I was used to in comics fandom.

(By the way: Make Mine Marvel.)

This #9 was the last issue of GRAFAN. The weight of ever-increasing expectations for its expansion kept it from reaching issue #10; instead, a leaner (at first) SON OF GRAFAN (SOG) took its place for 40+ issues. By issue #13 of SOG, Jim returned to his Grignr the Barbarian character for the first part of a new novella.

And Conan got competition anew.

GRAFAN 9 is for sale as digital download pdf.

For more of GRAFAN, see also:
ATLANTIS 1 and GRAFAN 2-8 (1970-1971) / covers and content summaries
SON OF GRAFAN (SOG) (1971-1975) / select covers and content summaries
Club home: granfan.org

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James Theis’ “Eye of Argon” sequel in Son of Grafan 13, 1972

Some in fandom think “Eye of Argon” author Jim Theis “never wrote anything again.” Not true. He wrote at least one more Grignr the Barbarian story, “The Sacred Crest.” Son of Grafan 13 printed part of it.

As the 17-year-old editor of the May, 1972, issue of SON OF GRAFAN, the mimeograph newsletter of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, I was excited to receive from my friend and fellow club member Jim Theis – one year older than me – a copy of the manuscript for “The Sacred Crest,” his new Grignr the Barbarian story, and permission to publish it in SOG #13.

This was like being handed fanzine content gold.

I knew a couple of years earlier, Grignr had debuted in “Eye of Argon.” Jim’s story published another St. Louis fanzine, OSFAN 10. I vaguely knew it had garnered attention in science-fiction fandom; I wasn’t active in it. I was a comics guy. I didn’t really know or care that “Eye of Argon” was the subject of some ribbing. I was in awe that a peer was generating long-form fiction, and grateful that on a monthly schedule with pages to fill, I had material!

JIm and I were friendly but never close, and I drifted out of GRAFAN by 1975, engulfed in college, the student newspaper and theatre group, jobs, life, girlfriends, fun. I was shocked and sorry to hear, in 2002, he had died, waaaaaaay too young. My memories were fond, and I considered myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to help publish his early 70s work, first Jim’s review of Marvel’s Conan comics in Grafan 9, then the Grignr story in Son of Grafan 13.

The issue kicks off with a cover by St. Louis cartoonist Larry Nolte.

SON OF GRAFAN 13 cover

Son of Grafan 13 is for sale as a digital download.

Here’s the indicia and my editorial introduction. I wrote, genuinely, not ironically, in the style of a 18-year-old Stan Lee wannabe:

Fans of Grignr, that pulse-pounding savage barbarian creation by Jim Theis, will certainly be delighted by the three-part sword-and-sorcery novella that begins in this issue. “The Sacred Crest” is Jim’s latest journey into heroic fantasy – and features Grignr at his best!!! “Diamond” Jim won the notorious J. T. Rickosh award from OSFA, the local SF group, for his first story, which appeared in their clubzine and drew a lot of attention. “The Sacred Crest” equals, if not surpasses, that well-remembered epic.

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 3

After a few pages of regular material – “Fandom Report,” a summary of GRAFAN meetings past and yet to come, and current activities of its members – we come, on page 7, to the issue’s main attraction. Aspiring artist me drew the gripping hand and broadsword directly on to the mimeograph stencil, the first half of what I thought would make a striking double-page spread.

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 7

“The Sacred Crest” by James Theis begins:

Squatting a full bow shot from the foliage of the royal forest was a lone oak tree; its bent limbs and twisted boughs lifted from an earth that stifled its roots and stunted its glory. Twisted shadows writhed over downcast limbs like formless wraiths; shambled and twined in an ever-mingling chaos that bore upon mighty limbs a weight which broke a haughty arrogance and prostrated them with an ignoble despair. But, out they grasped, gnarled and stooped with disgrace, that they may some day shatter their bounds and mount the somber throne of destiny.

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 8

Grignr appears:

Gliding from behind the oak, seeming as one with its eldritch mysteries, was a crouched form — stealthy as a stalking panther, despite its ponderous bulk. The dying sun glinted dully from dented helm and crimson corselet as it dipped redly into a horizon clouded by the smoke of battle; glinted from eyes the tint of a horizon recoiling from volcanic upheavel — eyes smoldering with mingled hate and despair that is the lot of few mortals to bear. Jutting beneath the stormy eyes was a broad nose, tapering and hooked at its end so that, combined with broad sunken cheeks and square outjutting chin, it lent to already craglike features the predatory sneer of a descending vulture coupled with the aloft and noble bearing of a soaring eagle.”

SON of GRAFAN 13, page 9

Eventually Grignr must confront an enemy captain, a “mercenary from the tribes south of the Borthunian wastes.”

Grignr passed his eyes rapidly over the captain and licked his chops with anticipation of locking arms with a worthy opponent.

“Ho scullion maids, be you afraid to set steel against a lone foreman?” taunted Grignr, his eyes ablaze and a wide grin curling his lips.

A tide of nervous movements swayed the column of troops, but none dare sally forth to battle.

The captain’s eyes blazed with ctempt and the scars upon his face burned redly with anger.

“What dogs do I command, that they quake at contemplation of a lone renegade! Set to it, and take him alive, before I step in and rip your yellow guts out with my own blade!”

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 11

This part of “The Sacred Crest” ends as the battle builds to climax.

Curse your hide, but you can fight,” muttered the captain as his eyes locked with Grignr’s, “but now you’ve drawn blood from this scratch a set my guts aboils for yours. If I cant take you alive then, by the Gods, I’ll split you like a boar and bind your head to the palace gates.

A wolfish grin curled Grignr’s lips; he raised his sword to cleave the captain’s skull as he recovered his lungs. Shadows crept behind cover and glided through the branches of the bent oak. The sword descended with a whistle of cleft air,

A few paragraphs later, the story is “to be continued… of course.”

The rest of the comparatively calm issue ends with a few “From the Outside” fanzine reviews by me…

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 18

…and the 1971 Comic Art Fan ballot, seeking votes for “favorite pro comic book” from nominees The Avengers, Conan, Green Lantern and The New Gods.

SON OF GRAFAN 13 page 19

It would be two issues, not one, before Grignr appeared again. The second part of “The Sacred Crest” appeared in Son of Grafan #15, May, 1972. But that’s another story.

Or more accurately: a continuation.

It was only recently, in 2021, that a mutual friend hinted that Jim’s original Grignr story, “Eye of Argon,” had gained a kind of infamy in science-fiction fandom. I genuinely had no idea. When I read online reviews that suggested, in a hazy, seeming word-of-mouth backstory, Jim “never wrote anything again,” I thought, well, regardless of what one thinks of Jim’s teen-age writing or the outsized, somewhat cruel reaction to it, that fact is just not true.

He wrote “The Sacred Crest.”

And Grignr lived again.

Son of Grafan 13 is for sale as a digital download.

For more of GRAFAN, see also:
ATLANTIS 1 and GRAFAN 2-8 overview (1970-1971)
SON OF GRAFAN overview (1971-1975)
Club overview at granfan.org

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GRAFAN zine, 1970-71 | St. Louis Comics Fandom Remembered

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Walt Jaschek and Ken Ohlemeyer in a Novermber 2020 interview

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One-Shot Western, Caliber, 1991 Comic Book with The Savage Sisters

Walt Jaschek recalls his first published comic book story: “Last Dance Before Daylight,” starring The Savage Sisters, a pulpy tale of the demands of the Old West.


You never forget your first.

Your first published comic book story, that is.

Mine was a two-part Western tale starring those heroic, young “Savage Sisters” in One-Shot Western, a (you guessed it) “one-shot comic” published in 1991 by Caliber Press of Plymouth, Minnesota, one of the leading independent comic companies of the era. It sat amid other black-and-white indy publications on the shelves of comic book shops back in the day. Here are the first three pages, recently re-lettered by me to fix (ahem) a little bit of amateur verbosity. We open on… the moon. Or is it the moon?

Savage Sisters Page 01
The Savage Sisters page 02
The Savage Sisters page 03

The story, “Last Dance Before Daylight,” puts into action characters created by Don Secrease specifically for this title. Don was the penciller and the creative director of this feature, and Mark Lamport the inker. Famous DC comics artist Rick Burchett contributed the cover and cover logo. Rick also has a feature in this issue: “Torn Path,” starring a John Wayne look-alike.

I recently found some slightly yellowed copies of the book, had Rick and Don autograph them, added mine, and now those autographed copies of One-Shot Western reside quietly on eBay waiting for a fan of Western comics or 90s comics or Rick to scoop one up.

Autographs on One-Shot Western, 1991

As I reread “Last Dance Before Daylight,” I expected to squirm at my writing, but the story isn’t terrible. The opening 9-panel sequence and splash page seem to really hold up, and Don did a great job creating what was described in crazy detail in the script: a vivid dream sequence of illusion and foreshadowing.

The story itself is, like the metaphor of “last dance,” a pulpy meditation on loss of innocence. The story’s young heroine must endure a kind of hardening that might be required of otherwise idealistic settlers in the 1870s frontier. There is also romance, gunplay and implied nudity, so we have those going for us. More pages to be scanned soon, so saddle up. And remember, if you want to see it as it appeared: eBay.

Bonus: Here are Don’s first sketches of the Savage Sisters, circa 1991.
Samantha Savage by Don Secrease
Savannah Savage by Don Secrease

Thanks for reading, partner.

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