Sunday, November 30, 2008

Make A Hawk A Dove, Stop A War With Love...and Big Hooters

Late last year, I ghost-wrote an essay for a book about action-adventure TV shows for a writer friend who was behind the 8-ball and called for volunteers on the writers list we're on to help him out of his jam. Here's the first half:

What Is So Hard About Wonder Woman?!
© respective copyright holder

“In terms of Wonder Woman, I’ve never really had a woman not identify, or identify in a negative way. At least they haven’t come up to me and said anything. That was always a goal of mine, was sort of that sisterhood thing from Paradise Island.”

Linda Carter, 2006 (Wonder Woman, 1975-1979)

On the back cover of the January 29, 1977 issue of TV Guide is an ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes, picturing a good-looking (but not so good-looking as to be threatening to her sisters), fashionably dressed young woman, cigarette between her fingers and the celebratory slogan of solidarity, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.”

On the front cover, in all her Lichtensteinesque glory, was Wonder Woman, cartoon bullets bouncing off her cartoon bracelets. “From the Comics to TV: Lynda Carter as ‘Wonder Woman’” the copy-line reads. The copy above the logo promises “A Startling Survey: What Criminals Learn From Television.”

The lead article was “When Television is a School For Criminals,” wherein “a surprising nine out of 10 (criminals interviewed at Michigan’s maximum security Marquette Prison) ... actually learned new tricks and improved their criminal expertise by watching crime programs. Four out of 10 said that they have attempted specific crimes they saw on television crime dramas.”

A staggering concept. (Starsky & Hutch as your criminal blueprint? Really?)

Thank Hera the article leading off the back of the book was about someone who could fight television criminals with television justice: “From the Pages of Comic Books ... Comes ‘Wonder Woman’ Lynda (Wham!) Carter, Who Is Scoring A Hit (Zap!) With Children and Their Fathers (Crash!)”

Lynda Carter and Wonder Woman were the media darlings and punch line du jour of 1977. After a couple of uninspired (many say insipid) pilots and TV movies, The New Original Wonder Woman debuted on December 18, 1975 on ABC. The series was set in the days of World War II, copying the look and feel of the comic book original by Charles Moulton (a.k.a. William Moulton Marston) and H.G. Peter. The villains were Nazis, Fifth Columnists, and war profiteers. The tone was campy, though not high-camp, a few notches down from over the top approach that worked so well on Batman, the show that (Wham!), a decade after it had gone off the air (Pow!), remained – as, indeed, it seems to do even today – the public perception of comic book superheroes (Zap!). Wonder Woman was played (unconsciously) cool and (retrospectively) ironic, but the appeal was (unavoidably) sexual.

Readers are made to wait until all the way to the end of the third paragraph of the article to learn that in the line-up of ABC’s comic strip-like TV show stars (Six Million Dollar Man, Happy Days, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Bionic Woman), none of the competition could hold a candle to Ms. Carter in the bosom department. “Lynda’s is an impressive size 38.” Against the likes of Lee Majors, Henry Winkler, Gabriel Kaplan and Lindsay Wagoner, the inclusion of this tidbit smacked of studio-approved pandering; it would be surprising if all of “Lynda’s” measurements weren’t included in producer-approved press material. The paragraph lead off with the information of the “spectacular 6-foot dimensions” of the “ex-‘Miss World-U.S.A.’” All this was in support of probably the only conclusion one could reach about a mid-1970s television show starring a tall, attractive woman costumed in a star-spangled bathing suit and red knee-high high-heeled boots: “...It is not only 9-year-olds who are watching. The Nielsen evidence is that their fathers are also impelled to steal peeks at this particular comic-strip show.”

No doubt.

TV Guide critic Judith Crist wrote in November, 1975, “Produced with taste and fine period feeling by Douglas S. Cramer, with a screenplay by Stanley Ralph Ross (one of Batman's better writers) and directed with wit by Leonard Horn, this introduction of Wonder Woman and her role in beating the nasty Nazis is indeed an animated comic strip, but done with intelligence and verve.” The cast is “fine,” and Lynda Carter is described as “luscious.” (In all fairness, Lyle Waggoner gets a reference for playing “handsome Maj. Steve Trevor,” but where handsome is value-neutral descriptive, luscious is plainly suggestive, especially when attached to the actress herself rather than to the character she plays.)

The New Original Wonder Woman garnered respectable enough reviews and ratings ... when viewers could locate it on their dials. When TVs still had dials. Instead of giving the Amazon Princess a berth on the weekly schedule, ABC used the first season’s eleven one-hour episodes as specials to counter-program against the competition on CBS and NBC; one would imagine that decision was not arrived at because anyone thought Wonder Woman offered a compelling historic look at the second World War sure to draw big numbers. Clearly, it was the costume and the spectacular 6-foot dimensions of the ex-Miss World-U.S.A. who filled it that drew its particular demographic: kids and males eighteen to dead. Junior came for the comic book goofiness; dad stayed for the size-38s. John Leonard, television critic for the New York Times, reviewed the 1977 premiere of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman on CBS (Warner Brothers, the studio that owned Wonder Woman, having grown tired of ABC’s lack of commitment to the program picked up their size-38s and took them somewhere else): “Obviously none of this is meant to be taken seriously. And I won’t. Using comic strip exaggeration, the producers are offering another of those escapist fantasies in the mode of grim bionic creatures and camp cartoons that once transformed Batman into electronic success.” It was a bit of a cliché, but a fun, harmless one. “As an actress,” he could not help add, “Miss Carter creates the impression of a sweet little girl disconcertingly trapped in the body of a potential Fellini sexuality symbol.”

Yeah, you’ve sure come a long way, baby.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
William Moulton Marston, 1943 (creator of Wonder Woman)

In 1972, Gloria Steinem recruited Wonder Woman as the symbol of the growing woman’s liberation movement by putting the Amazon Princess on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine. Wonder Woman was depicted (drawn by a middle-aged male artist) as a colossus striding Godzilla-like over a small town, brushing aside attacks by the military (meant to represent male aggression, one supposes) and protecting homes while carrying, bound up protectively in her Gold Lasso of truth, all those things that are good and giving (meant to represent female nurturing and strength).

Wonder Woman, created so that little girls could have a “funny-paper heroine to root for” had survived the highs and lows of publishing to be one of only three superheroes to stay in print (Superman and Batman being the others) through a seven or eight year superhero dry spell, comics having been commandeered by readers demands for other genres: westerns, romance, crime, humor, supernatural, funny animals. The popularity of The Adventures of Superman on TV kept DC’s core heroes afloat, but titles such as All-Star Western, Girls’ Love, The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Tomahawk, Mr. District Attorney, House of Mystery, Animal Antics, and Mystery In Space far outnumbered the dozen or so superhero titles.

Wonder Woman came about as the response to a challenge made by William Moulton Marston, psychiatrist, inventor of the lie detector, feminist, and educational consultant to comics publisher All-American Comics (later known as DC Comics). Dr. Marston was disturbed by the overwhelmingly male world of superheroes. Where, he asked, were the role models for the little girls reading comics?

All-American publisher Max C. Gaines (whose middle name, Charles, was combined with the doctor’s to come up with the ‘Charles Moulton’ pseudonym Marston employed on Wonder Woman) turned the challenge back on Marston, offering him the opportunity to create a “wonder woman” to stand with the “super men.” Marston responded with Wonder Woman, the first baby born in ages to the Paradise Island-dwelling race of Amazons and who was blessed by the gods with the gifts of Aphrodite’s beauty, Athena’s wisdom, Hermes speed, and Hercules’ strength. She was, of course, the feminine archetype.

But for whatever inspiration Wonder Woman may have provided to girls, it was believed that the readership for even this “girl’s” comic was likely as high as ninety percent boys. Sheldon Mayer, Marston’s editor at All-American, said in Les Daniels’ Wonder Woman: The Complete History, he felt Marston “was writing a feminist book but not for women. He was dealing with a male audience.” Daniels observed “Marston always felt that males were the ones who needed his message most. If he really did succeed in altering the social climate, it might have been by exposing millions of boys (who would become men by the 1960s) to the ideals of feminism. After all, it’s not much of a surprise that women might want to assert themselves, but it’s quite a different matter when many of the supposed oppressors agree to go along with the idea.”


Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's CRAZY, I Tells Ya!

A long, long time ago, I wrote for Crazy Magazine, Marvel's answer to MAD Magazine. While MAD was and remains an institution (and knowing the MADmen as I do, I can vouch for the need for one to hold them), Crazy was, at the time--late-1970s/early-1980s--way more cutting edge. I think it had something to do with the fact that Crazy had nothing to lose and editor Larry Hama (yeah, the G.I JOE guy) liked anything that made him laugh. So did co-editor Jim Owsley, now known as the immensely talented writer Christopher J. Priest (not the British science fiction writer); Jim wrote the hysterical parody, "The Brownstones," the Flintstones done with the sensibility of 1970s Blaxploitation flicks.

You could take chances at Crazy; over the years it drew some very funny stuff out of many writers, including Marv Wolfman's "Gaspar the Dead Baby," the "secret origin" of Casper the Friendly Ghost (if he's a ghost, he had to have died; the grisly story of how is told here, a tale that prompted Casper owner Leon Harvey (of Harvey Comics) to express his shock that anyone would publish such a story; obviously Casper is a different life form and not an abused child killed by lunatics parents. Who doesn't want to play in that sandbox?

For several years, I wrote the movie parodies for Crazy. I did a few dozen, from Star Wars to Superman (several of each), Apocalypse Now, The Shining, American Gigolo, Popeye, The Howling and on. We couldn't get advanced screenings or scripts, so I had to wait until the film came out, see it at the theater and take copious notes, then run home and write something very fast so it could get drawn very fast and then into print fast enough that people might still remember the movie by the time the magazine hit the stands. Sometimes, we planned to parody a movie that, upon release, didn't turn out to be what we expected or simply tanked, at which point we'd pick a new film and run with it.

Two such films were Ghost Story (starring Fred Astaire and John Houseman...what could possibly go wrong?) and Warren Beatty's Reds. Personally, I hated Ghost Story (I have no use for horror movies; I find them stupid and they don't scare's kind of my job to know when something is going to jump out of the dark) and I loved the Reds. There's also a shot at Whose Life Is It Anyway?, a film about a total paraplegic who wants to die while a shrink tries talking him out of it. Somehow, we didn't think this was a winning slate for the kids, so we dumped it all and I parodied something else. I don't recall what, but I did get paid twice that issue so it wasn't a total lose.

Here's the script I wrote, from 1981. If it looks weird, it's because I wrote it on something called a "typewriter." Google it. And, as always, click on an image to view it at a readable size.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's Yet Another Capes, Cowls & Costumes Friday

Over on, the latest bi-weekly installment of my Capes, Cows & Costumes column is up and ready to be read. This week, I look at some of the superhero junior novels on my bookshelf starring Superman, Batman, X-Men and Iron Man.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The New York Times of Jew

Oy, I'm kvelling! A Google Alert for Jew-Jitsu: Hebrew Hands of Fury just pinged in and I clicked without even looking at where it linked. Where it linked was The Jewish Daily Forward, the New York Times of Jew, baby! They review it in a piece entitled "Being a Profound Critical Analysis of Contemporary Jewish Comedic Literature; Imbricated Theory and Praxis"Next we have Jew-Jitsu. This book ironically juxtaposes Orthodox Jewry and an ancient martial art. It has pictures (a plus!) and humorous Jew-Jitsu 'moves,' such as 'Advancing Through the Buffet.' It was also co-written by a rabbi, so I refuse to say anything negative about the book for fear of pissing off God, if He does in fact exist. My suggestion? Buy this book, or you will be smote."

I'm plotzing. This is, seriously, great exposure.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Weekly World News XV

From May, 2005, here's another piece I wrote for Weekly World News. We found that wacky stories about the Founding Fathers and other historic figures (such as the Abraham Lincoln story I ran a week or so back) played well with readers, and this seemed wacky enough:

© Weekly World News

MOUNT VERNON, VIRGINIA -- George Washington is famous for having said, "I can not tell a lie." But a startling new discovery of the secret diaries of America’s first president reveals that his entire life was, in fact, a lie.

"George Washington was actually born Georgia Washington!" revealed Mount Vernon Museum caretaker Perry Wygge. "Which makes him even more remarkable, since he refused to be bound by the conventions of the time. Bound by a full-body corset, yes. But not by outmoded regulations."

Discovered, appropriately enough, in a large forgotten chest, the diaries bear out the restless indignation that possessed even the young Georgia.

"Truly am I weary of the treatment afforded women in this world," 14-year old Georgia wrote in 1746. "Am I condemned to a life of being a handmaiden because of my birth gender?"

Georgia’s best friend growing up on the banks of Virginia’s Potomac River was her older half brother Lawrence.

"Oh, that I could be as Lawrence, riding and hunting and acting as lord of the manor," the young girl wrote.

Her parents could not understand their tomboy daughter longing for the rough and tumble adventures of a young lad.

"Mother would have me spend my days in girlish frills, spinning yarn," the sobbing girl confessed to her diary on her 11th birthday on February 22, 1743. The tear stains are actually visible on the ink. "I cannot. I will not."

Another influence on her life was the wealthy Fairfax family. Georgia was especially drawn to Lord Fairfax, an outdoorsman with a passion for fox hunting who seemed to understand Georgia’s manly tendencies.

"He cares not that I dress in britches and refuse to ride side saddle," the future president wrote. "He knows only that I handle my mount and chase down the fox as well as any man. He calls me ‘George,’ a title I wear with pride."

Georgia's transformation to George was helped by the fact that, like her mother, she was uncommonly tall and, in her own words, "most unfortunately homely for a woman, though passable for a man."

In 1754, the sympathetic Fairfax family helped "George" get a commission in the Virginia militia, and for the next five years Major Washington commanded men during the French and Indian Wars. The skills learned here would make George the hero of the American Revolution.

"Not even the most battle-hardened old soldier, questions my masculinity," Georgia wrote with relief. "That is gratifying, since it is difficult to control the desire I oft feel for many of my troops.

"Indeed, my one regret is that I shall live my life alone," he went on. "Though I could woo a lass, what woman would want me once the truth were known?"

Yet, in 1758 Georgia found herself drawn to Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy Virginia widow. The attraction seemed mutual and, one night, Georgia confessed her secret to Martha...who had a secret of her own.

"I was born Martin," she told him. "Once I donned one of those happy white wigs, I knew I couldn't stop there."

They married in 1759. Georgia resigned from the military and settled into life with Martin at the Mount Vernon estate. When the American Revolution erupted in 1776, the highly respected officer was chosen to command the Continental army.

"Betsy Ross sews flags," he wrote. "Abigail Adams, though as wise as her husband, minds the farm while John serves in the Congress. Our new nation, when we build one, must be changed."

On October 19, 1781, England’s army, the most powerful on Earth, surrendered to General Georgia Washington and her ragtag troops.

"I have proved, if only to my satisfaction, that a woman is the equal of any man."

Though Georgia was content to return to Mount Vernon, the public was not yet done with her. She was unanimously elected as the new nation’s first president and would serve two terms before retiring -- this time for good. Georgia Washington went to her grave without anyone ever learning that the greatest leader of his time was, in reality, a woman or that the first lady was actually the first man.

"This sort of makes the Clintons seem positively mainstream, doesn't it?" asked Perry Wygge. "It just goes to show that the private life of a president has nothing to do with how well he -- or she -- does the job."

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Dead Zone

This is a short story I wrote about five years ago; the idea was sparked by a small footstone for Sidney Aronson in the graveyard near where my mother-in-law lies. My father's name was Sidney, so whenever we visit the cemetery, I always put a stone on Mr. Aronson's grave as well (it's a Jewish custom; you put a stone on the grave as either a sign that someone has been there to visit, or as a reminder of the fall of the Biblical Temple, I've heard both cited as the reason). The story's got a decent enough set-up, a good middle, but no finish. Everything I've come up with so far is flat and predictable, but I take a look at it every now and then and see if anything new or fresh jumps out at me. So far,nothing, but here's the first quarter of it:

© Paul Kupperberg

Silent as a tomb. In the dead of night.

He never really thought about what that meant until now. Walking through a cemetery in the hour just after dusk on a bone chilling autumn evening, colder than the time of year warranted, cold, he thought, as the grave. There wasn’t a sound, not the buzz of insects, not the chatter of birds or the whisper and rustle of wind through the drooping branches of trees, heavy with the dry weight of dying foliage. Quiet. No life except for the one he brought through the graveyard gate and that wasn’t much of a life at all. Too quiet for his tattered nerves. Too quiet for a guy with a kilo of stolen cocaine jammed into the pocket of a lightweight overcoat as tattered as those nerves.

Row after row of cold, hard headstones growing out of withered, brown grass. Otherwise forgotten names long ago chiseled in loving memory, untended tributes to mother, father, grandparent, child. He read off the roster of the dead to himself as he trudged through fallen leaves carpeting the paths between graves. Steinberg, Abramowitz, Levine, Weinstock, Bromstein, Sherman, Tockman. The dates, parenthesis enclosing lives barely lived, lives lived long: 1911 - 1919. 1904 - 1979. 1924 - 1944. Do the math, compute the life-spans, no matter the longevity, never time enough.

Did the math for himself. 1969- 2004.

Koch, 1937 - 1980. Heller, 1901 - 1949. Greenberg, 1940 - 1967.

Anything to keep his mind off the truth, that he had come here to join the dead. Except there would be no carved granite monument bearing his name, no reason to memorialize what he would be leaving behind. He’d seen to that by living as he had.

Get used to it, he thought. This was going to be home for what was left of eternity.

Karp. Cronenberg. Golden. Moser. Deitrich.

Hi, neighbors.

They couldn’t have picked a better place for the meet. The Jewish section of the old cemetery outside of town, its last occupant lowered into the ground more than a dozen years ago, filling the final six foot by three foot by six foot deep piece of real estate. Who came out to an inactive graveyard at this hour, on a miserable night like this? One stop shopping for them: they got back their property and had a place to leave his lifeless sack of flesh when they were through. They told him all they wanted was the merchandise, that he could just hand it over, say he was sorry, and walk away.

But he knew what was going to happen, what had to happen. You didn’t mess with these guys, take what was theirs and not pay for it. Letting themselves get ripped off and doing nothing about it would be bad for business. Examples had to be made, messages had to be sent to the next guy who even thought about taking them off. He would be their billboard warning the whole world to keep hands off. He had hoped that throwing them Rickie, his partner in that sorry town and this even sorrier attempt at instant wealth, would satisfy them, but Rickie had wound up with half his head gone, shoved into the trunk of a wrecked Buick waiting to go through the metal crusher in the salvage yard on the other side of town. Now it was his turn.

The old man was there, standing with bowed head before a weathered headstone. He wouldn’t have seen him in the gloomy silence, would have walked right on by, mistaking him for just another graveyard shadow, if the old man hadn’t spoken, calling out to him, “Hello?”

He stopped, fear squeezing his heart. Were they here already? He had arrived early, why not? There wasn’t anywhere else he could be, no way in hell he could run from them. Besides, a man doesn’t want to be late for his own funeral.

Then he saw the old man, a shrunken figure in black topcoat with sparse white hair framing a withered face with wrinkles that were a roadmap of a long life lived hard. Rheumy eyes glittered at him in the half light. No, this was no harbinger of his own death, merely a mourner of an earlier victim of the reaper. So he forced himself to breath again and resumed walking, head down, back on track to his meeting with the inevitable.

“Excuse me?”

Keep walking, get there and get it over with. He’d been living with the numbing fear of his own coming mortality for more than two days now. Forty-nine hours to be precise, at 4:37 in the afternoon the day before yesterday when he realized there was nowhere to run and Junkyard hissed in his ear that they knew who he was and were looking for him.

“I’d help you, man,” Junkyard simpered, compulsively running his hands up and down the thighs of his greasy coveralls. “You’re my bud, I wanna help, but you gotta understand I can’t, don’t you? They know I did for you, they’ll kill both of us.”

Ray had just stared, a pulse beginning to pound in his forehead. He looked at the neon dial clock over the door of the small service station office. 4:37. The moment his death warrant had been signed.

“And they’ll know. Word’s out, dig? Hands off’a you and don’t no one cross these guys. You see my hands’re tied, don’t you, Ray?”

How had it come to this? How did a life suddenly go from hope to hopeless in the blink of an eye, the tick of a clock on a rainy autumn afternoon at 4:37 P.M.? The scheme couldn’t have been simpler: walk in a door with three bucks to his name, pick up a package, and walk out a minute later richer than he’d ever been, ever hoped to be. It should have been a walk in the park.

So how did that turn into his last mile through a graveyard?

The answer was simple, as obvious as every other piece of ill fortune and bad timing that was the story of his miserable life. Born to the wrong parents, friends with the wrong people, consistently being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong idea. He gave nothing, took whatever he could get his hands on and to hell with who it hurt. Like Rickie, the poor bastard. And for all that, what was he left with? What had he ever done that wasn’t selfish and wrong? Whose life had he ever touched who would give a second thought to him when they heard he was dead? Except they never would hear the news. He’d just disappear, and the few who might, for God knows what reason, have cause to remember him, would just assume that he’d moved on to another place, where he could start stealing and swindling and creating misery among people who didn’t yet know, but would find out soon enough.

Forty-nine hours gone. About twenty minutes left to live. Did he want to spend it talking to some old fart in the cemetery? Would be like getting stuck with his senile old grandpa again. Old man had gone seriously nuts when Ray was in high school and had come to live with him and his mom. That was a trip, his boozer old lady and her old man, him shrinking daily under the weight of Alzheimer, her under the bottle, making each other crazy, spending all day screaming drunken, senile gibberish at each other. Good enough reason for Ray to have quit school in his junior year and get the hell out of there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Some writing gigs are a pure horror. One such horror was this, a young adult non-fiction book about the building of the Alaska Highway (very short version: authorized right after Pearl Harbor to link North American air bases through U.S., Canada, and Alaska, the highway was begun in February 1941 and finished, 1600 miles later, in September 1941, an engineering marvel spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). I don't know why. I love history and usually like this stuff. But I plowed through and now that it's done, I think it came out okay:

Building America, Then and Now: The Alaska Highway
© Facts On File

Work Until You Drop
Yet as with all other obstacles faced along this road, the soldiers could do nothing but keep working, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, “We were working, I think, eight-hour shifts. Three eight-hour shifts,” said General Hoge of the official schedule that had been set down for his crews, but the reality in the field was often quite different ... and exhausting. Henry Geyer was a truck driver with the army engineers who recalled this hard duty on “Building the Alaska Highway,” saying simply, “You worked until you dropped.” But, he added, “You had to do the job. You didn't like it. So you figured that you might as well as enjoy it, because otherwise you'd have gone nuts.”

Bob Batey, another engineer interviewed on the (PBS) documentary, agreed. “In the summer, the sun was up all the time,” he said, offering impossibly long 20-hours of sunlight at their northern location. “We were on 12-hour shifts. Half of the company was in the morning, and half at night. We worked all the time, seven days a week.”

“It was slave labor, is what it was,” said Wallace Lytle. “We weren't prisoners, but wanting to get the job done, we'd done most anything to do it.”

ay their heads pretty much wherever they fell. “We was working so hard that by the time you got through at night, you rolled your sleeping bag out underneath a tree or in the bushes, and you crawled in it and sacked out,” said Chester Russell, a former rodeo worker from California and no stranger to hard work.

Alden Hacker was another engineer who vividly recalled the exhaustion that daily overcame these workers. “Seldom did we ever put a tent up and tie all of the corners together. Usually you put them up and just enough to hold them together, because they're only going to be there for the night. The next day, the cooks would have to tear them down, load them up, and move them up the road as close to the front as they could move.”

“We worked twelve and fourteen hours a day in the rain and the flies and the mosquitoes made life miserable for us, particularly in the open mess camps,” remembered Master Sergeant George H. Burke of the 95th Engineers in The Alaska Highway. “We had hardly any free time, and most of what we did have we spent playing cards or pitching horseshoes.”

Everyone suffered from the combination of cold and lack of sleep. Mistakes were common and accidents frequent. While damaged vehicles and machines could be towed to the nearest camp for repairs, there were not enough tow trucks and spare parts to keep up with the demand. Wrecks were left to accumulate on the side of the road and, against Army regulations, some wrecks would be stripped of spare parts to be used in the repair of other vehicles. According to one witness, “each temporary base cap began to resemble a military junkyard.”

Soldiers went for long stretches with no other company that that of their comrades and, though often overcome with exhaustion after the long day’s labors, they keenly felt the isolation. On “Building the Alaska Highway,” army engineer Chester Russell said, “There was nobody. There was absolutely nobody. As far as young sweetie pies up there ... we never seen a lady.” Fellow engineer William Griggs agreed, recalling “We were completely isolated in most cases. At the beginning we were near some Indian villages, but most of the time we were completely isolated.” Despite the hardships, isolation and loneliness, the soldiers understood all too well the importance of the task they had been assigned.

Occasionally, movies would make their way out to some of the camps where men like Burke, who had been a Washington, D.C. film projectionist before he was drafted, who show them on the 16-millimeter projector. Even rarer were visits by USO (United Service Organizations) shows, a charitable, non-profit organization which provides entertainment and recreation to U.S. military stationed the world over. One such show featured violin virtuoso Yehudi Mehuhin in concert in Whitehorse.

But such diversions were few and far between for the men of the Alaska Highway. An article in a 1942 issue of Engineering News Record put the situation in perspective: “There was no recreational program provided for soldiers or civilians, probably none could have been provided. Work, work, work, and more work was the only program – day and night, seven days a week.”

An article in the New York Times from December 31, 1942 said, “The boys who built the Alcan highway ... (are mostly) drafted youth from the corners of America, they do not like to be told now that they are heroic, for their job held no glamour for them. They met it with curses and sweat. But with only their endless work, and their beefs, their checkers and their profanity for amusement they have pounded a road from the outpost of the outside world at Dawson Creek straight through to the heart of Alaska. They have done it despite hell, high water, and above all, loneliness. Many of them are eager to get out of Alcan country and into actual battle. But perhaps no action can be more dramatic or demanding than that which they have faced.”

More important than comfort, convenience or entertainment was speed.

Keeping the troops fed was another problem for the workers scattered along the length of the Alaska Highway. Engineers and workers would often not see fresh food for months at a stretch, relying instead on so-called C-rations, or prepackaged meals which offered few options, usually vegetable hash, meat hash, and chile con carne. But the limited menu soon had the soldiers resorting to the age-old practice of bartering with the locals for some relief from their steady diet of prepared canned meals. “We got so sick and tired of the chili con carne, we would send truckloads of chili con carne down to the Indian village and trade it off for fish” recalled engineer William Griggs. “And they said, ‘We’ll trade, but no more chili con carne.’ They got tired of it, themselves.”

“We lived on Spam and Vienna sausage,” said Fred Mims, while Chester Russell recalled, “Pancakes … was the number one on the list. Pancakes. We ate pancakes three times a day there for about a month.”

The New York Times article of December 31 described the conditions found in a typical camp: “Potatoes are iron-hard and have to be thawed for many hours before they can be cooked. Pancake batter may be freezing on top, and burning where it touches the stove. Returned laundry arrives in a solid chunk, which has to be set beside the oil drum stove for days before a sock or a handkerchief can be pried loose ... At all times the cold is the omnipresent factor, it is cruel to both men and machines.”

Time Magazine reported that “Out in the bush the only recreation is hunting and fishing ... (soldiers) hunt to vary meals of corned beef, potatoes, lemonade, carrots, preserves and dried eggs, by adding moose and bear steaks, lake trout, spruce partridge (Yukon chickens), ptarmigan (a species of game bird), grouse, venison. At Swan Lake, for lack of regular (fishing) tackle a Signal Corps man made a line from telephone wire, hammered a fishing spoon out of a tin can and brought in strings of fat trout over the side of an assault boat.”

African-American Soldiers
African-American soldiers were thought to be especially vulnerable to the cold and harsh conditions they were to face up north. Shockingly, the official U.S. Army position, as put forth by a study made by the Army War College, a training school for military officers, was “The Negro is careless, shiftless, irresponsible and secretive ... He is best handled with praise and by ridicule."

Indeed, the military was reluctant to even send African-American troops to work on the highway for fear that they would not be able to keep up with their white counterparts on this vital and fast-moving project.

It was, in fact, unofficial army policy to not send African-American troops places like Alaska and Canada because of the mistaken assumption that they were not capable of performing well in the extreme cold. But a wartime shortage of troops right after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and before draftees and enlistees could be trained and shipped out forced the use of the black troops on this vital northern mission. Though making up about one-third of the troops assigned to the highway, the African-American soldiers were more often than not assigned the harshest jobs under the worst conditions, including laboring on the brutal CANOL pipeline project. They were used only because the better-trained and equipped whites were needed for jobs deemed more important. Yet the black workers were routinely under-equipped and little thought was given to their physical well-being or safety. It was not unusual for supplies and equipment to go to white soldiers, leaving the African-Americans to make do with hand tools, laboring for weeks at a stretch in brutal temperatures that could reach -60º F for weeks at a time, living on frozen rations and in drafty canvas tents.

“Blacks in uniform had to endure the Army’s discriminatory racial policies,” said historian Heath Twichell. “The frequent expressions of hostility and contempt they encountered from individual whites only made that experience all the more painful.”

For the African-Americans working under white officers trained under these prejudicial beliefs, conditions were even tougher than those faced by white soldiers. According to Twichell, “In the minds of most senior white officers, black troops were not as capable in terms of their technical efficiency and ability to use the equipment. There was an expectation that they would do poorly.” All their work and their every action were a test to prove to the white officers and soldiers that they were as capable as anyone else to get the job done

Of course, as was ultimately proven by such examples as the durability of the construction of the 300-foot (91 meter) Sikanni Chief River Bridge by African-American regiments in less than four days and their records for most mileage built, the army vastly underestimated the intelligence and skill of their black soldiers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's Another Capes, Cowls & Costumes Friday

...Now it's a CC&C Saturday. Sorry for the sparse postings this week but things have been hectic and strange the last few days. Nothing bad or even particularly interesting, just unusually busy and frequently distracted because, as a writer, I only get to spend about 20% of my time writing. The other 80% is spent looking for stuff to write.

Be that as it may, head on over to and check out this week's Capes, Cowls & Costumes offering on novels based on newspaper comic strip characters.

Bookgasm was also kind words to say about Jew-Jitsu: the Hebrew Hands of Fury. Thanks, Bruce! The check is in the mail.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Weekly World News XIV

Whatever your politics, yesterday was an amazing day in America. I heard one TV talking head refer to Obama's election as the political equivalent of man landing on the moon and I can't say I disagree. I never thought an African-American would be--could be--elected president in my lifetime. I remember very different days, even here in the northeast, when such a thing was unthinkable except in science fiction.

And speaking of American presidents from Illinois (didja catch that smooth seque?), here's a story I wrote for Weekly World News in May 2005:

© Weekly World News

"The truth can no longer be denied: Mr. Lincoln is nuttier than a Georgia pecan plantation. Though this be treason, the United States shall cease to exist if steps are not taken to remove him from office."

Thus wrote Edwin Stanton, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, in his personal diary on March 20, 1864, The journal with its explosive revelations was discovered last week in a dusty old riding boot in the attic of the Georgetown, Washington home where Stanton lived.

Stanton first encountered ‘Honest Abe’ in 1850 when they were on opposite sides of a legal dispute. The future secretary knew 'crazy' when he saw it; he was the first lawyer in America to mount a defense of temporary insanity in a murder case, which he won.

"Mr. Lincoln is a nail biter with more tics than a dog," Stanton wrote at the time. "He weeps suddenly and uncontrollably and wins cases because juries feel sorry for him."

Though he was a wealthy and successful lawyer in 1860, Stanton actively sought the position of Secretary of War.

"Though my personal fortunes suffer from government service, I must stay close and try to moderate this man's mad schemes," he wrote. "A rational man would let the southern states go. Without the North’s industrial might the Confederacy will quickly wither. They will petition to rejoin the United States in a year or two. Yet I fear that this gangly fool will settle for nothing less than war. He will throw away millions of innocent lives just to be seen as a strong leader -- and give the South the kind of switch-beating his own mama gave him."

Stanton often worked late at the White House, rewriting orders for suicidal military advances ordered by the president.

"It is a daily struggle against lunacy," a weary Stanton recorded on February 9, 1865. "He screams at his wife Mary, yelling that she's a spy for the South and ordering her to sleep with the servants. He asks his son Robert to go kite flying -- at night."

Those actions troubled the secretary less than Lincoln's attitude toward the South.

"The rebels soon will be defeated and Lincoln is fixated on putting President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee on trial," Stanton noted. "'They are traitors!’ he mutters as he walks the corridors of the Executive Mansion, shaking his bony fist. ‘They must hang!’ I fear that if we kill their proudest sons, the South will never reunite with the North. They will burn their crops and slaughter their farm animals and the southern states will starve. Disease and poverty will embrace the reunited nation. The suffering will go on for years.

"Our only option is a terrible one: Abraham Lincoln must die!"

Stanton conceived how to do it. John Wilkes Booth was one of the most famous faces of his day. He sympathized with the south and his fame allowed him freedom of movement throughout Washington. He was the perfect man to execute Stanton’s plan - and the president.

"Though it will cost him his reputation and no doubt his life, Booth has agreed to be the instrument of America’s salvation," Stanton wrote.

On April 14, five days after the South surrendered, Stanton got word to Booth that Lincoln was to attend a play at Washington’s Ford’s Theater. That night, the actor slipped into Lincoln’s box and shot the president dead.

"We shall carry the burden of this terrible secret to our graves," Stanton wrote of the assassination. "But with poor Mr. Lincoln gone, the South will spare itself from suicide and reconcile with the North. The Union has been saved."

Monday, November 3, 2008

A General Glory Halloween Monster Story, Part II

I know Halloween is over, but with Election Day tomorrow, there's still plenty to be scared about! If you missed it on Friday, Part 1 is here, otherwise, click on an image to view it in a readable size.

© DC Comics

I know Halloween is over, but with Election Day tomorrow, there's still plenty to be scared about!

© DC Comics

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Jew-Jitsu is in the News!

Well, actually it's in the Stamford, Connecticut Times (and its local sister/associate papers here in Lower Fairfield County, such as the Wilton Villager) in a nice feature article, "The Art of Jew-Jitsu". Yes, it's a local giveaway paper, but they gave me great play: a promo blurb & picture over the logo on the front page, and almost the entire top half of the first page of the Arts & Life section and a picture:

Photo/Alex von Kleydorff. Paul Kupperberg with Felix the Cat,
a gift from a friend, in his Stamford studio.

By Chase Wright
© 2008 The Hour Publishing Co.

STAMFORD -- Paul Kupperberg has an obsession with absurd humor.

As a child, he read nearly every edition of Mad Magazine, collected Jerry Lewis memorabilia (he has a scotch tape dispenser with Lewis' smiling face on it) and still points to the best-selling humor book by Jack Douglas, "My Brother was an Only Child," as the source of his inspiration.

Now, the former satirical writer of such defunct prints as Weekly World News and Marvel Comics' Crazy Magazine has taken his obsession with absurdity to a new, more controversial level.

Kupperberg's new book "Jew-Jitsu: The Hebrew Hands of Fury" pokes fun at a people persecuted for over 2,000 years.

"Nothing is sacred," said the Stamford resident, who is Jewish.

The fictional humor book, co-authored by the fictitious Rabbi Daniel Eliezer, disguises itself as an illustrated instruction manual designed to help anyone, Jew or gentile, master an arsenal of both deadly and friendly self-defense techniques.

No longer will Jewish kids fear walking to temple, the book states. Jew-Jitsu teaches students "du oifn fun der mensch," or the way of the righteous man.

This step-by-step guide takes readers first through the "Eighteen Forms" of meditation (18 being a lucky number in Judaism) to mastering complex martial arts moves such as "Receiving the Torah," "Throwing of the Star of David" and "The Deadly Punch in the Kishkes."

Bet you didn't know that the same motion you use to break a loaf of challah could knock a man unconscious, did you?

For those who would rather work out their differences than stab an opponent with the three prongs of the menorah, there's a guide to non-violent fighting techniques as well.

Confuse your opponent by continually muttering such phrases as Oy gevalt! or Och un vai!, the book recommends. Or settle the dispute over a nice hot meal using the technique "Sit, Sit, Eat, Eat!" This move is particularly effective, says Eliezer, because, as it is said, "Brisket hath charms to soothe the savage beast."

Jew-Jitsu, developed by Rabbi Chiam Mangawicz, has its origins in mid-19th century Japan, according to the fictional book. In exchange for circumcisions and Judaism, the Japanese introduced Mangawicz to their language and the ancient and venerable art of Jujitsu.

With the addition of the Torah, Mangawicz created Jew-Jitsu, a combination of the Jewish faith and Jujitsu that come together as one.

"As the mama will gently sidestep objection with the gentle application of guilt, so does the student of Jew-Jitsu move his opponent with subtle leverage," wrote Mangawicz.

The book itself has no direct references to the sworn enemy of the Jewish faith, the Nazi, but Kupperberg says the obvious is implied.

"When you do Jews being picked on, you have to include Nazis," he said.

But don't go planning your revenge on the Egyptians, the Cossacks or the Bolsheviks just yet, Kupperberg warns.

"The book is merely for entertainment purposes," he says. "It's total farce. The only thing these moves will do is get you killed."

The Springdale resident is a comedic expert, but he doesn't expect everyone to understand his sense of humor.

"It wasn't my intention to insult anyone," said Kupperberg. "There's no hidden message. All I want from the reader is for them to sit back and laugh like an idiot."

Sitting in the basement of his Tree Lane home, surrounded by thousands of DC Comics, many of which he's had a hand in writing, Kupperberg reveals the secret to comedy.

"The secret to humor," he says, leaning back. "Is introducing an element of reality that people can relate to, and from there you branch off into crazy."

It's precisely what he's done with his latest book. He introduces stereotypes and symbols both Jews and non-Jews are well aware of and takes them to a ridiculous extreme.

"It's all in good fun," says Kupperberg. Plus, with a full Yiddish glossary included, you might actually learn something.

Published by Citadel Press, a notorious publisher of Jewish humor books, "Jew-Jitsu: The Hebrew Hands of Fury" is on sale in bookstores now for a price of $12.95.