In the first episode of a new YouTube series from the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame, 2018 inductee Walt Jaschek talks about highlights from his storied copywriter career – and the power of “lucky red underwear.”
From the St. Louis Media History Foundation description of this video:
A missing wife, the writings of Bart, holiday wishes from Angela Lansbury, and lucky red underwear are just a few of the topics discussed when St. Louis Media Advertising Hall of Fame member Walt Jaschek meets up again with St. Louis Media History Foundation board member Ken Ohlemeyer. Walt joins Ken for the first episode of Take 5: Casual Conversations with St. Louis Media Hall of Fame Members. This new series features radio, television, print, and advertising/public relations members of our St. Louis Media Hall of Fame as they share more about their backgrounds and interests.
St. Louis Media History Foundation
The Five Questions in this episode:
2:04 – How did Walt Jaschek start in advertising and copywriting? (Walt’s origin story)
30:52 – What is some advice Walt gives to writers?
Bonus 37:42 – Walt tells the story of The Golden Adventures of Brett Hull comic books
The Big Reveal
Walt Jaschek, left, interviewed by Ken Ohlenmeyer of the St. Louis Media History Foundation. This moment is Walt’s reveal of his “lucky red underwear,” and how this long-running joke started at the 1989 St. Louis Addy Awards.
Writer Walt Now has “a line in the sand” when it comes to a certain controversial herb. He’s talkin’ cilantro, and he says the only right way to think about it is: love. As I was saying: There are two kinds of people in the world. People who love cilantro. And people who are wrong.…
This review contains affiliate links. With great power comes great responsibility. And with great responsibility comes fame, fortune, last-act misjudgments, misfortunes, a cross-maze of lawsuits, and a boatload of movie cameos. We’re talking about the subject of Abraham Riesman’s new biography, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. It’s in hardcover and Kindle…
Overcome procrastination and writers’ block! In a new “timed writing” video, writer Walt Jaschek prompts you to join him as he writes uninterrupted for 22 minutes. (It works!) Is there something you need to write? Are you in avoidance mode? Would a timed, 22-minute deep dive move something along? And would watching Walt write at…
Scriptwriter Walt Jaschek finds rare, 1992 CBS-TV holiday spot with performances by dozens of TV stars of the day. And posts it.
Here’s a holiday TV blast from the past, never before seen on the internet, at least as far as we know.
In 1992, CBS-TV offered our agency Paul & Walt Worldwide the opportunity to write and submit scripts for its annual, big-deal, on-air holiday promo spot. The network had aired one annually since the dawn of the medium. Intended as a sincere gesture to express a sentiment on behalf of the brand, they’re seen and appreciated by tens of millions of TV viewers each year.
(Before it became a Paul & Walt client, the network had a long and happy relationship with Paul Fey, my partner; I wouldn’t have had a chance to work on any of these national campaigns if not for him.)
In submitting our stack of scripts, we included my holiday poem, “The Wish,” written specifically for the stars of the network’s hit shows of the day, and intended to be performed by them. Holiday miracle: our pals in the promo department bought it! And brought it to amazing life with their in-house production crew.
From Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”) to William Shatner (“Rescue 911”) to Burt Reynolds (“Evening Shade”,) these iconic actors brought their holiday A-game to the performances. Thought lost to time, the 30-second spot showed up on a VHS tape in the bottom of a box at the bottom of another box. Yeah. I had it digitized.
Take a breath. Here are a dizzying array of 1990s TV icons. And their holiday wishes.
Script CBS-TV “The Wish” :30 TV
JAY THOMAS: We wish you the gift…
SUSAN DEY: That love can bring.
JOHN RITTER: The gift that keeps on giving.
BURT REYNOLDS: I wish for just one win this year!
ESTELLE GETTY: I wish to just keep living!
ANGELA LANSBURY: I wish you love and lasting joy.
DIXIE CARTER: We wish you a scrumptious diet!
WILLIAM SHATNER: I wish you hope and peace on Earth.
BOB NEWHART: Or at least some peace and quiet.
JANINE TURNER: We wish you warm and cozy nights.
MICHELLE LEE: And the greatest wish of all…
GERALD McRANEY: ..is a wish you make with your family.
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…
And I’m here to walk you through it.
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.
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.
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.
In the first episode of a new YouTube series from the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame, 2018 inductee Walt Jaschek talks about highlights from his storied copywriter career – and the power of “lucky red underwear.” From the St. Louis Media History Foundation description of this video: A missing wife, the writings of Bart,…
The St. Louis Media History Foundation asks Walt Jaschek to add some comedy to its just-released Hall of Fame video. This “Zoom call” is the result. Congratulations to the new honorees in the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame, which due to The Current Situation is a video celebration only, archived on YouTube.Ken Ohlemeyer Jr.,…
Scriptwriter Walt Jaschek finds rare, 1992 CBS-TV holiday spot with performances by dozens of TV stars of the day. And posts it. Here’s a holiday TV blast from the past, never before seen on the internet, at least as far as we know. In 1992, CBS-TV offered our agency Paul & Walt Worldwide the opportunity…
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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…”
But who did Jerry call to fill out the column on this radio industry legend? The “pup” in his “South Side shop!”
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.
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.
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.
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…
Walt Now fires up his new HyperX Quadcast USB external mic and records a video with it – to review the mic itself. Looking for a good, external USB mic for your home/office? Found a cool one! I realized I needed an external USB mic to up my YouTube game (and Zoom for that matter,)…
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…
The lost art of the panel cartoon came roaring back when comedy writer Walt Jaschek teamed with illustrator Tony Patti for Smirk Du Jour, a series of gags about life, love and laughs.
These New Yorker-style panel cartoons originally appeared in Slightly Bent Comics #1, an American humor series distributed to comic book stores in 1998. The Smirk Du Jour cartoons, featuring Patti’s unique style of illustrations, served as a nice counter-point to the more narrative, multi-page features in the anthology. The two St. Louis-based creators also teamed up for the Corp Rut feature in Slightly Bent #2.
“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 WallaceColorado Springs Business Journal, January, 1984…
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…
Misery, they say, loves company. Here’s the company it loves the most. Corp Rut™. It’s not just a place to languish for decades. It’s the subject of a funny, two-page comic book story by Walt Jaschek and Tony Patti, as it appeared in the second issue of Slightly Bent Comics, 1998. Buy Slightly Bent Comics…
Misery, they say, loves company. Here’s the company it loves the most. Corp Rut™. It’s not just a place to languish for decades. It’s the subject of a funny, two-page comic book story by Walt Jaschek and Tony Patti, as it appeared in the second issue of Slightly Bent Comics, 1998.
The lost art of the panel cartoon came roaring back when comedy writer Walt Jaschek teamed with illustrator Tony Patti for Smirk Du Jour, a series of gags about life, love and laughs. These New Yorker-style panel cartoons originally appeared in Slightly Bent Comics #1, an American humor series distributed to comic book stores in…
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…
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…
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 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.
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.
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:…
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…
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,…
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.
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.
St. Louis comics fandom wraps up its 1970 interview with native son and DC comics writer O’Neil, weeks away from revamping Superman, Batman. Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 8, February/March, 1971[This issue is for sale as a digital download pdf.]Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, Missouri18 mimeograph pages + offset coverCirculation: < 100 copiesEditor: Walt JaschekCover by:…
In first issue under new editor Walt Jaschek, St. Louis fanzine GRAFAN continues in-depth, 1970 conversation with writer of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Justice League. GRAFAN #7 is available as a digital download pdf. Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 7, January, 1971Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis16 mimeograph pages + offset coverCirculation: < 100 copiesEditor: Walt…
The second fanzine/newsletter of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis was edited by a dedicated few, including me. Fun times! A long time ago in a St. Louis comics and science fiction fandom far, far, away – well, darn close, actually – I was an on-again, off-again editor and producer of SON OF GRAFAN…
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, 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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…
…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.
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.
Covers and content lists for ATLANTIS #1 and GRAFAN #2-9, 1970-71, “official propaganda organs” of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis. I love the smell of mimeograph stencils in the morning. Good thing, because as a teen-age fanzine writer and editor in 1970s St. Louis comics fandom, I smelled a lot of ’em. And…
In a video interview with Ken Ohlemeyer, longtime St. Louis copy and comedy writer offers in 44 minutes his learnings from 40 years. “Put your heart into it.” That’s one of the biggest pieces of advice Walt Jaschek has for aspiring or new copywriters. “By heart, I mean two different kinds of energy,” he explained.…
3-D fetal ultrasound of pregnant actress adds authenticity to this Walt-written, well-shot TV spot. The heart, not the head: that’s where we make decisions about where to go for healthcare. That’s why, as previously reported, my award-winning “This Is Care” advertising campaign for Central Baptist Hospital used minimal copy and maximum empathy to connect patients…
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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!”
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…
…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.
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.
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