Williams column: Comics, flashlight and spider

  • Posted: Monday, May 13, 2013 12:30 a.m.

As a child, I amassed a great number of comic books, some of which were handed down by my brother Joe. Since they were earlier, they naturally assumed a deeper place in my comic book pile, about 2-3 feet down, being added to from above, just as the upper layers of an archaeological dig represent that which came later. (But that analogy is not perfect, since those earlier comics would sometimes be pulled out, re-read, and deposited on top, confusing any semblance to a chronological timeline.)

I don’t know whether or not today’s children read comic books or the comics sections of newspapers, but I bet they wouldn’t pass them up in a pinch (in the absence of their favorite “e-toy”). As I grew, then aged, newer comic strips, such as “The Far Side” made their debut in the newspaper “funnies.” (The Far Side later having its “hepness” transferred to honorary, sheet-per-day, desk calendar form.) Peanuts and Garfield are, of course, classic, but I remember  comics even more venerable: “Blondie,” “Dick Tracy,” “Superman” and, believe it or not (speaking of that phrase, the comic strip bearing the name “Ripley” in its title is still in print), “Out Our Way” and “Major Hoople.” I especially remember one Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip “episode” in which he was apparently lost in a nighttime snowstorm and somehow wound up on an ice flow. The reason that it stuck (just like snow) in my mind then, and still sticks now, is probably due to the fact that there was much more snow in those days to be associated with the  daily moments of our lives.

In addition to my educational Golden Books about dinosaurs and stars (Betelgeuse, not Bieber), my “wealth” of comic books might have even made “Unca Scrooge” envious, as the nephews of my favorite childhood comic book character referred to their great uncle.

Like a lengthy play, comic books were made up of many “scenes.” The comic strip in the newspaper contained less than a dozen or so; and the comic included with “Bazooka Bubble Gum” had only two or three. The amount of “motion” from one frame to the next in the comic book is much greater than in the frames of the nickelodeon of my parents’ youth and the old flip books of mine, and the movies, otherwise, each issue of Donald Duck would have been a tome (and Bazooka would have had to make much larger gum).

I use the past tense in referring to Bazooka’s diminutive comics because some years ago they discontinued the comic, but not the gum. I guess they felt that there was enough mirth involved in just blowing a bubble, without having a laugh as well. Since blowing a bubble and laughing both involve exhaling, the two together couldn’t possibly have been dangerous, unless one read the comic while the bubble was being blown, then inhaled the bubble’s air along with the bubble (the risky part) to fuel his comic-generated laugh.

Those barely few frames, once folded around a piece of bubble gum, might have seemed lowly in their briefness, but like Haiku, despite brevity, they were complete.

As alluded to earlier, my very favorite comic books concerned Donald Duck and his three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Bruce Dern’s character in the movie “Silent Running” gave those names to his three plant-tending robots, so he too, must have been a fan.

I also had some copies of “Classics Illustrated,” which were kind of like illustrated versions of “Cliff’s Notes.” They seemed to be comics that aimed for a higher bar. 

I wasn’t completely satisfied with reading comic books by daylight or with the proper light of a lamp. While the world (or at least part of it) slept, like a host of other little boys my age, I would often sneak a flashlight into bed to read my comic books under the sheet. 

Under the cover of that sheet, the illuminated pages of the comic book were not unlike the illuminated screen of a drive-in theater, the  darkness above being its overhead cover.

When particulary young little boys read comic books in bed late at night, there is the possibility that some of those books may become “yellowed” (and not with age). To remedy the situation (which only happened a few times), I got ahold of my mother’s perfume and doused the affected books in the hopes of making them more “aromatic,” but the combination produced something even worse. Suffice it to say that comic books, so “affected,” soon joined the ranks of the “read no more,” then “File 13” (unfortunately, this happened to one of my favorite Donald Duck comic books in which Donald, his Uncle Scrooge, and his three nephews discovered a cave filled with just-smaller-than soccer-ball-sized spheres which seemed to multiply in number, like a “preview” of some sort of amalgamation of the “Tribble” and “Horta” episodes of the later “Star Trek” TV series).

Insects, wandering around in the dark, are often drawn to outside lights. This can be seen in the case of the greater and lesser moths attracted to the lights of evening football games; because I guess those insects, just as we, like to see where they’re going. Similar in behavior to those moths, flying beetles, candle flies, etc., the insects present in my nighttime room were drawn to the subdued glow beneath my sheet.

On some nights of reading the latest saga of Donald and his nephews, I noticed that an occasional gnat or fly would land on the outside of my bed sheet, the bug’s silhouette being magnified by the scattered light from the page. This was nothing unusual, as I was used to the “magnified” shadows of these very diminutive things.

One night, something different came onto the scene. It was probably not much larger than those previously enlarged insects, but what made the sight of it really threatening was the number of its appendages. Crawling over the sheet in the dark as I looked up, was something which appeared massive and definitely eight-legged!

I immediately extinguished my flashlight and remained “hermetically sealed” under the sheet for the night, gradually becoming acclimated to the air interchange possible through thin cotton fabric.

Harry Houdini could hold his breath underwater for more than three minutes; and I could breathe through that sheet, safe from the terror above for the rest of the night, my switched-off flashlight and unlit comic book by my side.

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