Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 24

In 1974 I finally got something I’d been longing for since my high school days. My Pop bought me a graphic-arts camera, a plate-burner, and a printing-press (Multi-Lith 1850,) and I founded Pure Imagination, my publishing company. The earliest projects P.I. produced consisted of research books on Comics, and their artists, but I was always looking for new type of stuff to print. Around that time I was introduced to a Detroit area collector named Joe Anderko whose archives were remarkable and extensive. He had an eye for beautiful things and devoted a fair amount of time and cash amassing his collections. When I finally got over to his apartment he showed-off his goodies, and like Citizen Kane, Anderko had “the loot of the ages.” Numerous cardboard treasure-chests overflowed with rare issues of PLANET COMICS and JUNGLE COMICS, movie star photos, and Pin-Up Art. “Want to see my Bettie Page files?” he asked innocently. I told him that the name rang a bell, but I couldn’t remember who she was. “She’s got black bangs. You’ll remember her as soon as you see her,” he answered. He produced a black loose-leaf binder with about fifty glossies of Ms. Page and it all came back to me in a flash: an old girlfriend was plucking at my heartstrings.
We talked about Movie Star News, the store where he’d purchased his Betty stills, and I made a note to get over there. On my own, I picked up copies of Jeff Rund’s amazing publications PRIVATE PEEKS. There were several, and while there was virtually nothing factual about her, the mags were end-to-end-Betty. The Queen of Curves had reclaimed a sliver of my life, and for the first time since I’d abandoned my first girlie-book collection, I was in view of pictures of Bettie Page
Four years later, the public got to rediscover Bettie Page, albeit in the Comic Art form. Another long-time Bettie fan was hard at work on the other side of the continent producing Dave Stevens’ first regularly scheduled comic feature, THE ROCKETEER. The strip was a tribute to the serials and pulps of the 1930s, the ‘40s-‘50s in general, and Commando Cody, King of the Rocket Men specifically. Dave lovingly mixed the ingredients of his childhood and seasoned it with the finest spice he could come up with–La Page.
Dave and I share a number of passions, from Doc Savage to Jack Kirby art, and it wasn’t unusual that we should eventually become meet.
I haven’t really spent that much time with Dave. I did an interview with him in his studio for a couple of hours, and a few minutes in the same proximity at some convention. I took him out to Chinese food once. But Dave and I never bonded.
I can’t decide if he’s shy, or distant, or a little of both.
I remember calling Dave in the earliest days of the BETTY PAGES. Mr. Lucky had just spilled his guts to me, and I was dying to tell somebody. So I spilled my guts to Dave, yet after we hung up, I really wasn’t sure if he’d appreciated what I’d done. Eventually, he stopped returning my phone calls.
And while Dave and I know each other, I wouldn’t say that we are friends.
Though we never really spoke about it, I hope that Dave doesn’t think of THE BETTY PAGES as vamping off of his momentum. Without a doubt THE ROCKETEER had an effect on the choice of the magazine, but even without his pen-and-ink version I’d have gotten around to her, I think. Ultimately, THE ROCKETEER helped THE BETTY PAGES, and that set the stage for them to meet. Dave’s gets the greatest prize of all: The opportunity to be Betty’s companion, because of it, these days.
Though The Rocketeer’s girlfriend is only identified by her first name, the trademark bangs and the unique chassis could only have belonged to the elusive Ms. Page. Readers loved the line-drawings of Betty almost as much as the previous generation had loved her photos. If you were hip enough to know what The Rocketeer was, you knew Betty. Strangely, all of the new Betty fans had never seen her photographs. That was about to change.
With the advent of the direct-sales market and explosion of Comic book stores, the stage was set for an expansion of my business. I’d published Comic book research books, but was looking to expand my line. 

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