Mike Zeck needs no introduction. Here’s a short one anyway. He’s best known for four things: a three-year run on “Captain America,” the 1986 “Punisher” miniseries that made Frank Castle into a real character and not a Spider-Man foil; and 40 or so unbelievable G.I. Joe covers. His career in comics is bigger than that, but you only asked for a short introduction.
Tag Archives: Mike Zeck
In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin placed their biggest mail order of G.I. Joe comics yet, and the excruciating wait began…
My grade school had half-day Fridays every single week, so I would have lunch at Roy Rogers with Betty, my family’s housekeeper/nanny/second mom, on the way home. And my brother, in 9th grade at a different school, didn’t get home until 4 or 5pm, whereas I was already playing Dig Dug on our IBM XT and watching Dennis the Menace at 1. On a Friday after what felt like months, where every day I longed to see a package awaiting me at my front door, Betty and I pulled into the driveway, my neck still careening for an angle on the screen door in case THIS WAS THE DAY.
Indeed the screen door was just a tad ajar, but in no way the amount needed to make room for an eight-foot tall box of comics. And there had been a few false alarms — small packages for my mom, or all our regular mail bundled together with a rubber band, so I wasn’t going to get my hopes up again on the short flagstone walk to the front stoop. But there it was anyway, another modestly sized, tightly taped East Coast Comics box!
I have no recollection of getting it inside, or forming half-words to Betty to express its significance, but soon I was kneeling on the bed in my parents’ room, an odd place for the unpacking operation, but one that makes its own sense. Betty watched soap operas downstairs in the family room, and from an early age my brother and I knew we weren’t allowed to join in. (At the time soap operas showed the occasional sex scene, all tastefully under the covers, really nothing more than prone kissing – tame by today’s standards. But nonetheless we were chased out of the room if we lingered too long while fetching an action figure or an afterschool Pudding Pop.) So that room was out.
My room was too narrow for stacks of loose comics so large they threatened to asphyxiate me should they topple over. What I needed was a big space to spread out so I could take in all the G.I. Joe goodness at once. We watched TV on our parents’ bed, and sometimes read for school there, so it was atop the brown 1970s bedspread and before the orange, brown, and white tulips of Vera Wang’s wallpaper that I gingerly dumped 40 new G.I. Joe comics out in front of me.
I’ve alluded to this a few times before here at Real American Book, the unattainably nostalgic feeling of reading during that first year of collecting comics. This was when a comic took 45 minutes to finish, when I would read every page three times, and then read the comic again. When I was legitimately concerned that whatever deathtrap or point blank pistol promised inescapable death to Snake-Eyes, to Ed Marks, to Daredevil on the cover might actually happen. I was worried Snake-Eyes would step on that landmine on the cover of G.I. Joe #63 even though I had already read issue #s 90-95 — starring an alive and well Snake-Eyes! (Okay, not always well, since he got hot ash thrown in his face in #95.) But here now was an almost overwhelming tableau of those images, Marvel’s 1980s cover stock and color saturation popping off that bedspread, yellows that blinded, red that promised of blood, white in the steely eyes of determined heroes, flamboyant purples for villains, dangerous green jungles, ultramarine skies. Like an amateur card dealer I shuffled the comics around with the palms of my hands, over and over, prepping for a game of Go Fish that would never finish, would never start. These cover images, most drawn by Mike Zeck and Ron Wagner, are indelibly burned into my brain, and the power they hold, supported by the interior narratives, multiplied by the unassailable guilding of nostalgia make most other comics dissatisfying by comparison.
There would be no buyer’s remorse for this splurge. Only the satisfaction of having half-completed an entire run of Marvel G.I. Joe in one fell swoop.
I must have spent a half hour just looking at them, moving them around, arranging them, picking some up, flipping through them. Looking at them. Looking at them.
While I was still curious how 40 comics hadn’t needed a box bigger than a coffin, that concern faded, and the entire stack went with me into my bedroom. I sat propped up against two navy blue pillows on my lower bunk bed, Prince’s Batman soundtrack playing on my boom box. (Oh, how I’ve tried to keep the ‘80s from overwhelming every paragraph of this blog. Oh, how I failed on that last sentence.) And there I read comics for hours.
I should note here once again how memory misaligns. For years I’ve remembered this big order as my second, but the date (12/15/89) on the one I showed in part 14 of this story means this bigger order had to be our third. And I remember it arrived in the spring of 1989, but the Batman album didn’t street until June 15 of that year. And I wouldn’t have bought it opening day. But school got out in early June, and not only did I come from school that East Coast day, I must have told Will all about it the following Monday. Right? So how was I listening to an album that I hadn’t bought yet? Could I be conflating a later reading session with this victorious day of postal receipt?
Regardless of the answer, I have no memory of Kevin coming home later, and me telling him the good news, and him sorting through the stack, taking in the pulp bounty for himself. But I do remember both of us spent hours that weekend reading, me prone on the family room floor, elbows digging into our soft yellow shag carpet, and Kevin lying on the couch, a tall pile of comics on the coffee table between us. The coffee table where my father kept his coffee table books, the ones that indirectly seeded the idea for A Real American Book.
And though the dual afternoons offered us much in the way of thrilling narratives, double crosses and death-defying escapes, it doesn’t quite compare to that break in the tension storm when my months-long anxiety at last broke, and that giant East Coast Comics order finally arrived, on a spring Friday afternoon at the end of 6th grade.
I still think about that day when I listen to Batman.
In our last thrilling episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe issue #93 and saw Snake-Eyes’ face!
Just below issue #93’s great cliffhanger was the “next issue” blurb, one that promised the beginning of “The Snake-Eyes Trilogy.” My brother and I owned enough issues of G.I. Joe by now to know that the series had never been delineated with story arcs. Chapters weren’t branded as “part 1,” or “part 2.” It was all an ongoing story, with some characters and plotlines taking the spotlight and others moving to the back or dropping out for stretches at a time. So combined with the fact that this “Snake-Eyes Trilogy” was about the mystery man, and that we had just seen his scarred face for the first time, here was ample evidence that #94 and beyond were a big deal. The tiny preview of next month’s cover showed a healed Snake-Eyes pulling the bandages off his head and brandishing a pistol, a steely look of resolve over the NINJA COMMANDO’s face.
Oddly, when that issue did arrive at Waldenbooks in September, the cover was different. The earlier image had been redrawn, and much of the space was now taken up with giant type that read “SNAKE-EYES GETS A NEW FACE!” And “THE SNAKE-EYES TRILOGY PART 1: WARRIOR REBORN!” And “TOP SECRET.” One of the important factors that separated the monthly G.I. Joe from almost all of Marvel’s other output was the lack of type on its covers. Marvel super-hero comics (and some of the licensed books) regularly had dialogue on the front, and copy that sought to pull in young readers, a decades-old remnant of once head writer and editor Stan Lee’s hyperbolic writing style (“The Day Kitty Pryde Leaves the X-Men, is the Day the X-Men Fall!”) In fact, only 16 out of the previous 93 issues of G.I. Joe had cover copy. This point is worth spending some time on. By way of example, note how impactful this random cover by Mike Zeck (issue #62) is:
There’s tension. You’re worried about the prisoners. One looks injured, one looks seriously ticked off. Maybe he’ll try to escape! Visual cues let you know they’re out of their element: barbed wire and AK-47s particularly. These guys are prisoners behind the Iron Curtain. That’s a scary thought for a soldier in 1988 or so, or a boy following his exploits. But the cover loses all its power if there’s copy:
So when Kevin and I found issue #94 at Waldenbooks, with its leading cover text, even if we didn’t consciously realize it, the “part 1 of 3” and the mere presence of a blurb meant that something was different. Now it may have just been Editorial trying to goose sales — Read this issue or you’ll miss out! – but the cover treatment, whether it pulled in additional readers or not, was an accurate reflection of the heightened stakes in this run of issues. I mean, last month the Baroness just blew up the Dreadnoks’ van. In this new issue, she shoots Scarlett point blank in the head! I’m not a bloodlustful guy, but I do appreciate edgy kid entertainment, and stories that don’t talk down to me. This kind of violence could never have flown on TV, but we knew that in war, people get hurt. People die.
And some wars come to a premature end. Which one was it, metaphorically? Tune in next week to find out!
Note for last week’s readers: The part two chicken scratch doodle of Another World has been partially updated.
In our last episode, Tim bought his first comic book ever, G.I. Joe Yearbook #3…
Then, what I believe is one year later, but could have been only half that, we returned to Another World. I bought G.I. Joe Yearbook #4, looked at but passed on another Mad, and Kevin bought two back issues: G.I. Joe #61 and #62. (Or maybe he’d bought them on that first visit? Memory’s funny that way.) At home he promptly put them on a high shelf in his room where I couldn’t reach them. He never offered them to me, and I never snuck a peak when he was elsewhere. I didn’t even touch them until later when we were regular comics readers and those two issues were incorporated into our burgeoning G.I. Joe collection. This should demonstrate the strange disinterest I had in comic books at that initial point. (It is also indicative of our overly strong sense of personal ownership. My toys were mine, Kevin’s were his. We didn’t share, and we didn’t much trade. This is not meant to sound mean, it’s just how our personalities worked. We played with our G.I. Joe toys side-by-side, my characters and vehicles interacting with his, but him only holding and role-playing with his, and me with mine. Weird, I know. It’s worth an entire blog post, how we played with our toys.) By then we had found D&D wares at the Waldenbooks at our mall (an important location that I’ll come back to in a later blog post), and rarely returned to Another World. In fact, I don’t think Kevin ever went back. I did go every year or three — it was friend and future editor Nick Nadel‘s local shop once he entered the picture, but until I had a driver’s license there was no point in shopping at this third-closest store. It did move and renovate, and finally closed when parent company/comics mail order giant American Entertainment went belly up a decade later.)
But back to those two issues–
Before Kevin whisked them away I do recall seeing these two covers, which by themselves form a kind of contained story, and being worried for the protagonists. This is a point I’ll come back to at a later date on the blog — the power of the cover image — but for now you can likely acknowledge that even if you’re not a G.I. Joe fan or a comics reader, these guys are in trouble. The barbed wire, the handcuffs, the menacing weapons. Trouble!
As with the first comic I’d bought, Yearbook #4 did not turn me into a lifelong reader. I just recall thinking there weren’t enough Joes in the lead Oktober Guard story, being confused by the recap pages that mixed narration with word balloons, and wishing the Joes in the back-up yarn wore their regular costumes and not their civvies. Years later Tony Salmons would give me some original art from that story.
So here’s where the biography stands: Kevin and I have been buying G.I. Joe toys and watching the G.I. Joe cartoon for four years — half a lifetime. For me it vies with Transformers as my favorite thing ever, for Kevin it’s no contest. We read books and newspaper comics, and now own four actual G.I. Joe comic books. But we’re still not readers! What’s missing?
Tune in next week!