A Brief Tribute to Stan Lee and a Story About my “No-Prize.”

Comics, Flashbacks, Letters to Editors, Treasures, Walt a Life

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In 7th grade, I wrote a gushing fan letter to Stan Lee. The letter was subsequently published in its entirety in Captain America #107, November, 1968. A thrill. Here’s the cover, by Jack Kirby (another hero:)

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But it got better. Stan deemed the letter worthy of a “No-Prize,” his inside-joke “award” for fans – an envelope with literally nothing inside. So when, a few weeks later, said envelope from Marvel arrived, my 12-year-old head hit the ceiling.

This is my way of saying… RIP Stan, entertainer extraordinaire, wizard of words and worlds, and an outsized influence on many, including me. I’m so happy you lived long enough to see your co-creations explode into every corner of pop culture. Thanks for the ride.

And thanks also for this little envelope: no prize I’ve gotten since surpasses.

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“Congratulations,” it says. “This envelope contains a genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize which you have just won. Handle with Care.” I did, through the decades. That’s a pic I shot recently. The outer envelope (from 625 Madison Avenue, New York, 10022) has yellowed. The No-Prize itself… is mint. 

People Who Talk In Movie Theaters: My Long-Incubating Irritation

article, Flashbacks, Humor Column, Newspapers, Opinion Pieces

I sold this humor article to the feature section of the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper in the summer of 1982. It documented the start of what became a lifetime of irritation with movie-theater talkers. I’m much better now (people have learned, I think), but this irritation led, in 1987, to a published letter to TV Guide, and later, in 1993, to a plot device in Mel Cool: Mall Cop (sample panel below.)  But it was back in Colorado the blood started boiling.

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Vigilantes Needed In Movie Theaters

Special to the Colorado Spring Sun
By Walt Jaschek

I’m not a violent person, really.

In fact, I’m the kind of guy who will capture an insect and set it free rather than endure the trauma of squashing it.

I will cross a busy street rather than confront vicious-looking squirrels and rabbits.

I will befuddle mugger in dark alleys by breaking an a capella rendition of “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No.” (Experience has shown that any song from “Oklahoma” will scare off the criminally inclined.)

So we should establish at the outside I’m an average, gentle fellow, spending my days pondering the meaning of life, examining man’s inhumanity to man, and devising methods for getting that blonde down the hall over for a game of strip Scrabble.

Lately, however, I’ve been frothing at the mouth in frustration and anger, and I feel as if at any minute I’ll sprout a green wig, torn pants and absolutely Hulk-out. The source of this hostility:

Morons who talk in movie theaters.

It’s my curse. No matter when I sit in the theatre, it is inevitably next to the rude, crude, impardonnable types who blatantly babble during the film.

I sit there and seethe, transferring my anxiety by man-handling my Milk Duds.

As a frequent patron of the cinema, especially during dollar nights, I have found our town to be in excess of quote of loudly express their every non-thought.

We’ll all had to deal with these troglodytes. You’ll be watching a steamy love scene and the guy behind you will complaining about the lack of butter-like-material on his popcorn.

You’ll be absorbed in a riveting moment from a psychological thriller and the woman in front of you will be criticizing the actresses’ hair styles.

I’m nostalgic for the days when people went to the movies to neck. At least they did it quietly. These days, these seem to go to form networking events.

I suppose television is at fault for this tendency toward unrestrained verbalizing. Families are used to sitting around the living room, having open conversation during even the most intense moments of whatever CSI is playing these days.

Specialists in primitive human behavior have identified three sub-genres of movie theatre malevolents:

  • The “Oh, Wow” type. Has just consumed a box of Good ‘n’ Plenty, some Nibs and two Quaaludes. Gasps at every bright color or blast of stereo; reads the credits out loud.

  • The pseudo-intellectual. Pretends to subscribe to Film Comment. Feels obligated to critique the cinematography. Loves to loudly identify where he’s seen that character actor before. Hums along with the film score.

  • The slug. Yells “go for it” during the sex scenes. Complains bitterly about the previews (which are, after all, the best part of movie-going). Needs to have the plot explained to him by the guy named to him. (“No, the Shire is Frodo’s home.”)

  • A catch-all category for couples who try to figure out the murderer, people who laugh at violence, and anyone else who must offer their opinion above a whisper.

So what’s to be done about this unmannered subset of humanity? I’ve suggested to local police that talking in movie theaters be made a misdemeanor, but I’m told this would take untold overtime pay.

Vigilante action is, then, our only recourse. We must gag the verbose Mom and her inquisitive children. We must silence the spaced-out pontificators. We must squelch the Sprite-slurping hecklers.

We’ve paid good money to see the film without distraction and no jury would convict us for defending our right to discussion-free screenings.

I’m not a violent person, really. But this is war.

Walt Jaschek once went to a lot of movies.

1986: Walt Jaschek Gives Blood for Southwestern Bell

Flashbacks, Motivational, Walt a Life

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TBT 1986. Giving blood @ Southwestern Bell during my stint there. This pic by George Stenitzer made it into the company newsletter, even though “thumbs-up” was code for “feeling faint.”

I’ve given blood since and have not been such a wuss. Ask the American Red Cross.

Walt Jaschek says it only hurts a little.

Censored Doonesbury Comics of 1976: Revealed (Again)

Comic Strips, Content Writing, Flashbacks, Reporting

Get ready for hot, sexy comic strip action: 1976-style!

Just kidding. What you’re about to see is, by today’s standards, quite tame.

But in November, 1976, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (and about 20 other newspapers around the country) made an editorial decision to withhold publication of a 5-day run of the Doonesbury™ comic strip, and replace it with reruns.

At the time, I was a 21-year-old feature columnist for The Current, the student-run newspaper at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I was also a crazed comics fan. Realizing I could fill a column, provide a “public service,” and see the blacked-out strips myself (not easy, pre-internet), I pitched then-editor Tom Wolf: “Let me ask Universal Press Syndicate if they’ll let us run ’em. For free.”

Tom and the syndicate said, “Do it.” We printed the strips with my article, which you can read below. 

First, of course, you want to see the strips.

Here they are, as printed in the December 2, 1976, edition of The UMSL Current.

Warning: they are very safe for work.

Doonesbury™ by Garry Trudeau

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The Doonesburys You Didn’t See

By Walt Jaschek

Most St. Louisans will never know how good Joanie Caucus is at breakfast.

There were were, Tuesday, Nov. 11, breathlessly watching as Joanie makes her final moves on Rick Redfern. Eating dinner in his apartment, Rick compliments Joanie on the meal she had made. “Thank you, Rick,” she says. “I’m pretty good at breakfast, too.” Rick’s face contorts. Joanie thinks to herself: “As the kid goes for broke.”

The next day, we were intrigued further, as Virginia Slade — having just withdrawn from the Senate race — dials Joanie’s apartment in the morning… and gets no answer!

The day after that, we were suddenly and mysteriously back on the familiar football field with Captain B.D., no mention made of Joanie’s romantic adventure.

It was enough to drive Doonesbury fans zonkers, so to speak. Local fans of the terse, explosive, provocative comic strip realized The St. Louis Post Dispatch had substituted alternate episodes rather than finishing the Joanie and Rick sequence.

We called Joan Dames, features editor at the Post, and she was quick to clarify this comic strip tease, AKA the Doonesbury dilemma.

“The editorial board of the Post decided to take out the sequence that showed Joanie Caucus and Rick Redfern in bed,” said Dames. “We thought it inappropriate for a family page.”

But the Post wasn’t alone in blacking out the strip.

Lee Salem, a representative of Universal Press Syndicate (which distributes Doonesbury to 450 newspapers) said about 20 papers dropped the sequence. But those papers, including the New York Daily News, make up a large chunk of circulation.  Most of them just dropped the Nov. 13 strip.

Riding out this controversy, as he’s done before more than once, is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, the most electrifying force on the contemporary comic art scene.

As an undergraduate in 1968, Trudeau started drawing a strip for the Yale Daily News called “Bull Tales.” It introduced a cast of rich, mimetic characters like Mark Slackmeyer, Zonker Harris and Mike Doonesbury. When Universal Press offered to syndicate the strip nationally, it was dubbed after the persona presumably closest to that of Trudeau.

In its short history, the strip’s virtual world has developed and diversified, the characters shuffling, the concepts sharpening. Trudeau’s insights, pacing and crisp characterizations have enthralled legions of readers, while giving them some of the gutsiest comic strip humor since Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

The Joanie and Rick affair is just the latest of Doonesbury’s envelope-pushing concepts. While their sex life may be casual, the establishment of it — and the reaction to it — wasn’t.

“We only got about 20 letters and about as many calls, but some are very angry,” said Post features editor Dames.

“Most kids don’t read Doonesbury. But parents do get upset when this type of material appears on the comics page. We thought it wasn’t appropriate,” she said.

With a smile in her voice, Dames added: “Listen, we live in Sex City, U.S.A. We’ve got Masters and Johnson here, and even they say that sex  without commitment isn’t that exciting.”

“Trudeau said that he did this because he wanted everyone to take a stand on pre-marital sex,” said Dames. “So I guess the Post took a stand. But we’re really not bluenose about this. Just today (Nov. 18, 1976), we ran a story contraceptives. Take a look at it.”

At Universal Press, Lee Salem emphasized that his syndicate carefully reviewed the strips.

“With Garry, as well as with all the creative people we do business with, the material is gone over carefully,” he said. “With this particular piece, we had a long session over the phone with Garry, and we thought, considering Joanie’s character and that of Rick Redfern, the sequence is justified.”

The sequence was certainly justified to those readers who have shared Joanie Caucus’ long and winding road to happiness. 

Joanie worked hard in Slade’s campaign, but times turned bleak when Virginia decided to throw in the towel so that a third candidate could successfully beat the incumbent. The only light in the darkness  for Joanie — who only weeks before had been hurt by a guy who was gay — was political reporter Rick Redfern.

That’s where we came in, remember?

Trudeau has said it is the challenge of the cartoonist to, among other things, “invite the reader to involve himself in a new reality set up as a sustained metaphor for his own; to let the small meanness and foolishness of life face each other in distortion … and to seek out the vignette that speaks to the lives of many.”

Joanie got to make her “good breakfast.” That is her small pleasure.

We got permission to print the blacked-out strips.

That is ours.

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Walt Jaschek hopes you have enjoyed this frisky flashback to the sexy 70s.