Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mutant Mags, Scarecrow Contests, and Split-Toe Ninja Boots

"When the air smells like smoke, and the twilights are orange and ash gray, my mind goes back to Green Town the place where I grew up." This is the nostalgic narration (think Christmas Story without the drollery) that opens Walt Disney's production of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Born and raised in the twenties, Bradbury's recollections of his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois (the real-life counterpart to Green Town) are a boy's eye view of a rural America long gone. It's the kind of place where everyone in town will stop work to attend a carnival.

Today is the second day of fall and, walking the two Main Street blocks from my apartment to the shop, I too am reminded of "the place where I grew up." That place was a five hundred acre horse ranch just outside a small Alabama town of God-fearing bird-doggers called Hurtsboro. The Will Halloway to my Jim Nightshade was a bespectacled wisp of a boy named Aaron, who, twenty-five years later, remains one my best friends (see the Summer of '81 post). Autumn, in particular Halloween, was an important time of year for he and I. In part, because of the Fall Festival, a series of gaming tents and vendor tables that the Methodist Cultural Commission pitched along Church Street every October.

My first year (and first fall) in Alabama (my family had moved there from NJ), Aaron and I created a Marvel Universe ripoff called Mutant Mag to sell at the fair. I was nine, he was eight. Aaron's Mom was an artist. She had converted the hunting cabin adjacent to their house into a studio and this is where we worked, coloring by hand (fussily at first, but then, as dawn drew near, carelessly) the books we had, earlier in the day, copied at the Hurtsboro Savings Bank, which boasted the one Xerox machine in town. Marvel Universe, if you remember, wasn't really a comic book at all, but rather a encyclopedia of the various heroes, villains, and lusus naturae that peopled the Marvel macrocosm. Each page had a robust full body portrait of a character along with an origin profile that ran in a journalistic column of copy down the side. It was here that Aaron and I learned words like "cabalistic," "behemoth," and "reprobate," along with phrases like "latent mutant attributes," all of which we incorporated (mostly incorrectly) into our own publication. We created robotic chimeras with names like Android Wolf and Turtle Cyborg. Thumbtack was a dwarf who could manipulate his ribs so they curved up out his back like porcupine quills; Dutch Dike was a guy who could "fill any hole" (the innuendo was quite beyond us). All the Marvel characters had aliases and, accordingly, so did ours: Sha Corona (I'm not kidding) was the secret identity of a man with a motorized saw blade that half-mooned from his helmet like a rooster crest; Gareth Grimshaw the aka of a dimension jumper known professionally as Limbo. We sold out of the stapled digests within an hour, feeding our fall folie de grandeur and filling a coffee can with dollar bills (which we spent on hot dogs and a festival game called Tic Tac Toss).

Not our scarecrow.

The next year, our objective was to win the newly minted Scarecrow Contest. Our scarecrow was complicated and had a decidedly knotty back story. Martial arts warrior, werewolf, vampire killer. Its face was a nylon ninja hood over top a plastic wolfman mask. Its chest was covered with "chain mail" made from linked, supposedly silver, Stars-of-David, which we meticulously snipped from sheets of roofing tin. Its hands were a pair of long red leather biker gloves that flared at the forearm. We fastened a sharpened chopstick to each of these, gluing metallic pen caps to the base (where stick met glove) to imitate the steel bushing on Wolverine's knuckles (Wolverine is a Marvel character with retractable claws).The chop sticks were ostensibly wooden stakes that extracted any time our scarecrow saw a vampire. It also wore split toe ninja boots which, of course, helped the scarecrow with rope climbing and wall walking.

Anyway. I don't think the judges got it. First prize went to a freckled, rusty headed girl named Elizabeth who had, according to the panel, "ingeniously utilized" a plastic milk jug as a head. We didn't even place.

No comments: