Friday Dog Blogging

Isn't he adorable?
Isn’t he adorable?

So apparently my modus operandi when I have nothing else to blog about is to fall back on blogging about Buddha.

So here he is. Isn’t he cute? Have a nice weekend.

Getting Over Gwen Stacy

Forty-two years later, I still haven’t gotten over the death of Gwen Stacy.

Gwen Stacy died in Amazing Spider-Man #122, cover dated July 1973.  In 1973 comics were dated 2 or 3 months in advance, so that issue hit the newsstands sometime in April or May 1973. The event actually spans issues #121 and #122, but it’s in the first few pages of #122 that we see she is really dead. I was eight years old and not reading superhero comics yet, other than the issues of Adventure Comics (with Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes) in the barbershop. As a matter of fact, I first read Spider-Man #121 & #122 thirty or so years later when they were reprinted as a trade paperback.

Yet this “death” still affected me back then.

The death of Gwen Stacy was a major event for comics in 1973. This was before death had become a temporary condition for nearly every major character in nearly every comic book. Killing a recurring character and “showing us the body” (however bloodless and antiseptic) wasn’t done back then. Sure, plenty of villains fell off cliffs, disappeared in explosions, or washed out to sea, but they always had a good story about how they didn’t really die when they showed up to terrorize again.

Gwen died. Peter held her in his arms. There was a funeral. Spider-Man was even a “person of interest” in her death.

The fan reaction was large enough that it affected the stories in Spider-man comics for the next few years. This was the mid-70s with no email or huge conventions: the only way fans could react was with pen, paper, envelope and stamp.

My first solid memory of buying comics is Amazing Spider-Man #136, which was on the newsstand about 14 months later. I remember riding my Ross Apollo 3-speed to Phillips Stationers in Midland Park to buy myself comics with money my Nana gave me for a good end-of-year report card.

Phillips had the kind of newsstand that existed from some time in the early twentieth century right up until the early nineties. Newspapers were arranged in stacks in front the register as you entered: The New York Times, The Daily News, The Record, The Star-Ledger, The New York Post, the Ridgewood News, and probably a few more I don’t remember. The smell of cigars, smoked and unsmoked, hung in the air.

At the first corner of the rightmost aisle was a spinner rack with Disney and Archie comics— the kid’s stuff as far as this nine-year-old was concerned.  I would only buy this when I was flush with money from a birthday or other holiday. The barber shop had Archie Digests each month anyway, so I could just tell my Mom I needed a haircut if I wanted to see them. (Yes, I did that.)  Further down the aisle was a wall-mounted magazine case with superhero comics. As I flipped through the comics deciding where to place my hard-earned twenty-five cents each, a steady stream of people entered for cigarettes, newspapers, and lottery tickets,

I distinctly remember buying Spidey #136. I think I may have picked up Fantastic Four #150, Mighty Marvel Western #34, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth #21, and G.I. Combat #173 that week also. I had at least two dollars from that report card, so it should have been a big haul.

Amazing Spider-Man #136 had a full page recap of the death of Gwen Stacy.


This was my introduction to comics’ extended plot lines. The comics I had seen had before stories that lasted one, maybe two issues. When those stories ended, everything was back to normal: Lois still didn’t know Clark was Superman. Commissioner Gordon still didn’t know Bruce Wayne was Batman. Captain America still had his mighty shield. You still really didn’t like Bruce Banner when he was angry.

But this was a recap from a comic that was 14 issues ago! More than a year! To nine-year-old Eric (well, Ricky: but that’s another story) that may as well have been the nineteenth century! And Peter (Spider-Man) was still recovering from the loss.

This page was my gateway drug to comic collecting. I immediately wanted the whole story…which meant having all of them.

Going into Midland Park meant descending the long hills of either Vreeland or Erie Avenues, and coming home meant climbing one of them in the other direction, something that my nine-year-old legs couldn’t quite manage yet. Thus began what became a weekly tradition: walking up my bike up Erie Ave while reading all of my comics before I was even halfway home.

Which was fine. I need to read them each three or four hundred more times before they were fully memorized anyway.

Phillips Stationers was just over a mile from my house. I had to cross 2 major roads, as well as ride down a third busy road to get to “downtown” Midland Park.  I did this at the tender age of nine.

My parents let me ride my bicycle a little over 2 miles round trip, at the age of 9, to buy books with my own money. Imagine this happening now, or even 10 years ago when today’s crop of “safe space” craving college kids were 9 years old.

Spider-Man #136 had the recap of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” and introduced the new Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, the son of the original Green Goblin. This might sound familiar if you’ve seen any of the last five Spider-Man movies. The book was better. Trust me.

It also continued what had been an entire year of Peter mourning Gwen. This continued through the return of Gwen via a clone that Peter pretty much saw through right away. Yes, a clone. Not quite “one ring to rule them all” but not quite as sad as midi-chlorians either.

As I stood on Erie Ave and read about Gwen’s death I learned about loss. Peter Parker was hurt by Gwen’s death, and still he went on. (I hadn’t read the “origin story” where he lost his uncle yet.) Up to that point (and for many years after) I had lead a charmed life and hadn’t dealt with loss. This lesson, however abstract, taught me something.

There were many bicycle rides to get comic books and regular books after than one. I still associate cycling with reading even now.

Riding a bicycle two miles round trip to buy comics isn’t quite the pinnacle of character-building, but it’s emblematic of what an excess of caution has removed from growing up. Kids used to have to entertain themselves from time to time, and that meant things going wrong too. I actually got a flat tire once. I think a nine year old boy getting a flat while riding his bicycle to the store alone would be a Huffington Post story about parental neglect now.

But that’s a rant for another time.

On Use of the Word “Nazi”

captain-america-1Writing my grandfather’s story is going to mean writing about the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920’s.

The word “Nazi” is loaded — for good reason. It’s what call the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP.) The Nazis are responsible for the murder of over 6 million Jews, a war that killed another 50 to 80 million people, and shaped the world in ways that still affect us today. It’s hard to list all the bad they caused because it’s easy to leave something out and offend someone. We should think twice when we refer to them and when we use their name to describe others.

But that’s what makes the word so hard to use now: it’s been diminished via overuse. It appears so often online there’s an adage about the inevitably of it being used to describe someone.

The word has been in very heavy use the past couple of years to describe our current President, political opponents from both parties, and at least of two of the current candidates.

In none of these cases is the word deserved. It’s pure hyperbole. Doing and saying things you don’t like doesn’t make someone a genocidal fascist (or even a non-genocidal fascist) it’s makes them someone who does things you don’t like.

Yes, Trump seems to have the potential, but right now that’s all it is. He’s still just a reality TV star that knows how to work an audience. That is a little scary but he’s not a dictator yet, and there is a difference between a garden-variety racist and a genocidal dictator.

My dilemma is this: I’m going to have to refer to members of the NSDAP and their party affiliation. Sometimes it will be in a character’s dialogue and the word “Nazi” will fit: it was still used as a word to insult NSDAP members then. Other times I will need to refer to the party in “neutral narration” or in this blog. What name do I use?

Which terms fits? Does the work Nazi generate more heat than light? What do you think?




Friday Fun: Buddha has a New Toy

The opening of the Barkbox is a monthly tradition in our home. Now that is Buddha is an only dog, he gets to sample the toys alone. (Not that he was afraid to swipe them from his sister anyway.)

This is what sheer unbridled joy looks like. He wants to play keep away, but dumb Daddy is too busy holding his phone to get it.

The Capture of Montauban

British Artillery
If you look back at the picture of grandfather in my post in December you can see the “109” on his helmet. He was the in the 109th Reserve Regiment, part of the 28th Reserve Infantry Division. (You can a listing of military units at the Somme here.) Unlike the United States, which entered the war much later, both Britain and Germany built units from communities. (I am not sure if France and Canada did the same.)  Both sides paid a terrible cost for this during the war when entire units were devastated, leading to the devastation of the corresponding communities.

The 109th consisted of draftees from the area surrounding Karlsruhe in Baden. (Now Baden-Württemberg.) My family is from Liedolsheim, now Dettenheim. That article about Dettenheim contains some interesting facts about Liedolsheim after World War I, which will be a big part of my story later.

The 109th was at Montauban, one of the places where the German lines fell during the bloodbath of July 1, 1916. July 1, 1916 is colloquially (and somewhat confusingly) referred to as “The First Day on the Somme.” It was the first day that the British and French attacked the German trenches. For the most part that day was a terrible failure for the Allies, and their losses were terrible.

As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, when the lines broke many members of the 109th retreated back behind their own artillery. My grandfather was one of the leaders of that retreat because he knew the way, and he was considered hero because of the many lives he saved. The German trenches were, by design, a baffling maze 2 or 3 kilometers deep depending on where you were. He knew the way because he maintained the telephone lines between the trenches and the artillery.

For seven straight days prior to July 1, British and French artillery pounded the German trenches, in an attempt to soften them up. This strategy failed, and other than a few small pockets like Montauban, the German lines held and July 1 was the first day in a long and bloody battle.

At some point after July 1 my grandfather was captured and held as a POW of the French. That’s one of my next research projects.

The Battle of the Somme – Starting My Research

I wrote a few weeks back about my grandfather and his experience in World War I on the Somme. There’s more to my grandfather’s story: quite a bit more. I’ve been engaged in quite a bit of research and plan on writing a book.

I’ll be posting bits and pieces here as I go along.

This week is a couple of Youtube videos with footage from the Somme. It’s not much. I promise much more to follow.

There are many photo and even some video from the Somme available, but most of it is from the British perspective. What’s universal however, are the terrible conditions the soldiers on all sides had to deal with.

What really interesting is the footage of the British soldiers handling the German POWs in the first video.

More to come.

Housekeeping note: this blog has moved to different hosting, and as a result I can finally embed a proper email subscription form on the right. Please consider subscribing for regular updates, as well as a couple of upcoming contests.

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