In 1976 I was still teaching third grade in the New York public school system, but I was also writing freelance for magazines about pop culture subjects, like science fiction and comics. I had a column called “The “Super” Market in Rock Scene Magazine, a local NY monthly that made fans and readers everywhere feel intimately familiar with the latest rockers, fashionistas, photographers, comic book heroes and other party animals.


I reviewed comics and related stuff in the column, and a one-shot sci-fi magazine called Starlog had caught my eye and I wound up giving it some positive space. A few months later, the editor in chief of Rock Scene called to say that a friend of hers had been offered an editorial job on a new fan magazine, but it was sci-fi, which was not his thing. Did she know anyone who might be interested?

Long story short, I got the job. It was summertime, I had seven or eight weeks before the beginning of the new school year. On a trial basis, I got $25 a day and worked out of a broom closet. Okay, I know, it’s a cliché. But I was the one who had to move the brooms, pails and mops out of there to make room for a desk, lamp and MANUAL typewriter.

My first major assignment was to edit an essay by Isaac Asimov on the possibility of faster-than-light travel. In other words: could the “warp drive” of the starship Enterprise ever become a reality?

Isaac Asimov was not only the most prolific science and science fiction writer ever, and one of America’s most popular writers, he had written science fiction BIBLES. He was responsible for “The Three Laws of Robotics,” in I, Robot, from which all modern stories of robots in any shape or form come. He had written The Foundation Trilogy, voted by fans and professionals as the Best Science Fiction Series of All Time!

I had read his books growing up—both his science fiction work and his science fact books. He was a wiz at explaining science to kids and lay readers. More than that, he was a living GOD to my father, who had first introduced me to science fiction around the same time I discovered comics—about the age of five. He had Asimov’s fiction in the house. I read those books as soon as I could reach them.

And now, here’s my first job at a science fiction magazine, and my first assignment is to EDIT Asimov.

There is more to this story. . . .

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Okay—so I’m a Boomer.

Some good from that—“sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”—and some not so good: aging, friends and relatives passing away, the assassination of the president and his brother, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War.

But on the plus side, I got to see wonderful comics as a kid.

It was the 1950s. There was much Cold War paranoia. A new phenomenon, given the horrific name of “juvenile delinquency,” was scaring parents across the country. Frederic Wertham was testifying about the evils of comics (including Wonder Woman’s breasts and a homosexual relationship between Batman and Robin) before congressional committees. Parents were aghast.

In 1953, Marlon Brando starred as an outlaw biker in the classic, seminal film, “The Wild One.” One of the townsfolk asks him: “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” And Brando gives him a stone cold, bored look and says, “Waddaya got?”

Parents were really worried.

So I was not allowed to any read EC Comics, or any of Lev Gleason’s gritty detective titles, etc. I could read Disney comics, and DC Comics—Superman, Batman, and Lois Lane.

And so I found Carl Barks—the great “good duck” painter—in the Disney duck comics. And I was allowed to read Fawcett’s Captain Marvel group. And I loved them all. But by the time I finished high school, I was done with reading comic books. I had discovered girls. It was time to move on.

I thought nothing of the 50 or so comics I had on my bedroom shelf at home, when I moved out at age 19 into the shared Bronx garden apartment of three of my colleagues on the Hunter College weekly newspaper, one of whom was my girlfriend. Another of whom was my editor in chief. It turned out that she was a fan of the then-new Marvel Comics titles.

One night I had trouble sleeping, and went into the kitchen for a midnight snack. I opened a floor-level cabinet looking for a plate or dish . . . and found a stack of comics.

They were all Marvels, from 1962 to 1965. The Fantastic Four. The Hulk. Spider-Man. Strange Tales, Featuring Dr. Strange. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil. I had never even heard of Marvel Comics before that night. But in the next few hours, in many important ways, my life was changed forever. My enthusiasm for comics was reborn.

I graduated college in 1968, stretching it as long as I could to avoid the Draft and a one-way trip to War. Within the next decade, I would write about comics for rock ‘n’ roll magazines, and get a job as editor of Starlog Magazine, which would lead to becoming the first editor of the first nationally distributed magazine about comics. Which would eventually lead to becoming a comics professional.

(To be continued . . .)

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Dinosaurs and Spaceships

My two first loves as a kid were dinos and sci-fi, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent most of my professional career creating books on one or the other.

I recently saw Star Trek: Into Darkness, and loved it. It continues the wonderful reboot for the whole Trek universe, although, of course, my sci-fi geek antenna was at full power. So, for instance, I found it surprising to see ships firing at each other while in warp drive. If you are already traveling faster than light speed, how can a projectile (or other weaponry) possibly outpace the ship it came from? I don’t think this was ever done before on Trek, and there’s no pseudo-science to make it work.

I was telling an old colleague and fellow Trek fan, Karen Carr, how much I loved the movie, and she sent me this cartoon, which she had done as a goof with an old friend. I thought it was cute and asked for permission to reproduce it. Karen is a visionary artist and illustrator of all things prehistoric. I had the opportunity of doing two books with her while I was at Byron’s Preiss’s. They are fictionalized accounts of ancient creatures, based on the latest scientific information. The first is called Dinosaur Hunt, and it puts a fascinating story behind two sets of actual footprints found in Texas on what was once an ancient shoreline. One of the sets of prints was left by a large plant-eater, the other by a carnivore, and they seem to show that the meat-eater attacked the giant sauropod.

The other title we worked on together is called Jurassic Shark, and follows the life cycle of a female Hybodus—the alpha shark of its time. Both are wonderful picture books with really neat art and stories. If you have kids or are just fans of paleo-artwork, these are for you.

You can see this and much more of Karen’s art on her newly revamped and just relaunched web site, And you will be very happy that you did.


Strip by Mike Minor and Karen Carr, 2013
(click on images to enlarge)

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Long Live the King

Ray Harryhausen died yesterday, on May 7th, at home in London, at the age of 92. This truly marks the end of an era. When Ray was 13 he saw Willis O’Brien’s magical stop-motion work on King Kong, and his path for life was set. I won’t mention all of his films, but I was an impressionable lad when I saw The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Mighty Joe Young, and Jason and the Argonauts and The Valley of Gwangi.

Dinosaurs and monsters; impossible beings magically brought to life; sailing into the unknown on the adventures of a lifetime. These are what a Ray Harryhausen film promised and so often and so splendidly delivered.

And he was one of the nicest, sweetest guys I’ve ever met. He is also the only person I’ve ever asked to autograph their work. I was on a panel at a New York comic convention while I was editor in chief of Starlog magazine, and I was scheduled to be part of a panel on special effects in movies—a panel that would be shared by Ray Harryhausen and two other talented filmmakers (who they were, I have long since forgotten). Knowing I would be on the panel with Ray, I went trolling through the dealers’ rooms, looking for comics of his films. I scored a good condition Valley of Gwangi and a good copy of 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Then I made sure to sit next to Ray on the panel.

Ray was gracious, asking me if I wanted them personalized or just signed. I was too shy and in awe to ask for a personalized message, so he simply signed them with “Best wishes.” Those autographed copies are a proud part of my collection (of 7,000 comics).

Ray was a childhood friend of Ray Bradbury. Both were part of a early group of sci-fi and fantasy fans (Isaac Asimov was another), way back when. These guys grew up to be the new generation of fantasy-makers and inspired all who came after, especially such filmmakers as Spielberg and Lucas and Cameron. Harryhausen was the man who, one stop-motion frame at a time, set their minds on fire, while at the same time convincing Hollywood that genre movies could be big box office.

Ray was truly one of my idols, and the world is a bit darker and emptier place today for his passing.

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Clinton Romesha and the Medal of Honor

Uncommon Valor co-author Dwight Jon Zimmerman has posted a commissioned article on the Defense Media Network detailing the heroic actions of Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha in a remote Afghanistan valley.

This was one of the largest engagements of the war and SSgt Romesha actions were above and beyond the call of duty, eventually earning him the Medal of Honor.

Please visit the Defense Media site via this link to see Dwight’s full account of the battle, accompanied by servicemen’s photos of the area:

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Another Honoree

Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor this week and, thankfully, it was not a posthumous award. For more than half a century, the Medal was not awarded to a living serviceman. Now, during President Obama’s term in office, that trend seems to be reversing. SSgt Romesha is the fourth living recipient of the past few years.

The previous ten Medal of Honor award-winners were all engaged in fighting either in Iraq or Afghanistan, as was SSgt. Romesha. The stories of their service and acts of courage can be found in Uncommon Valor, Dwight Jon Zimmerman’s and John Gresham’s gripping narrative of men at war and their incredible acts of heroism, courage, and ultimate sacrifice for their fellow soldiers. Eight American servicemen were killed in the battle in October 2009, in which Romesha was wounded yet still managed to delay the advance of the enemy and dodge fire to recover the bodies of his fallen comrades.

In detailing the events of the engagement and listing Romesha’s acts of uncommon valor, President Obama quoted the staff sergeant as saying: “We weren’t going to be beat that day. . . . We were just going to win—plain and simple.”

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Human Origins. Part One.

When did human civilization begin?  If we look at this as a scientific investigation (and not a quiz of Biblical stories), the best answer, based on current knowledge, is sometime during the last Ice Age—between 40,000 and 30,00 years ago—in Europe and Asia, by descendents of our African ancestors.

The Hyborian Age, as envisioned and chronicled by Robert E. Howard, began somewhere around 25,000 years ago. “Conan the Barbarian” was a native of it. Howard posited that this age of man began after the flooding/fall of Atlantis, and ended before modern civilizations arose in the Far East.

There are extraordinarily sophisticated cave paintings in Europe that were created at least 30,000 years ago.  Some of them bear incredibly potent 3-D illustration effects. (Don’t take my word for it: you can look it up!)

Modern history (i.e., the story of man) is composed of written records from after “the Flood.” It tells of human societies in the Middle East, Asia, South America, and other coastal communities around the world. The “Flood,” as should be fairly obvious, was a rise on global waters due to the end of the Ice Age, with concomitant melting and coastal flooding as the planet began to warm once again. Dozens, if not hundreds, of civilized societies located on seashores and riversides were subsumed by the rising of the world’s waters due to glacial melting. Many were in the Mediterranean and now lie underwater.

I believe that Robert E. Howard was correct, that humanity had reached a fairly high level of sophistication before the ice retreated. Much, however, was lost in the floods that followed the melting. But much remained: geology, geometry, astrology/astronomy, the intentional planting of seeds, animal husbandry, the making of cloth and clothing—all carried over from antediluvian times.

So much was lost in the flooding . . . but so much knowledge survived, that by 3,000 years Before the Common Era (BCE), human civilization was once again modern and sophisticated. Mathematics, architecture, animal and plant breeding, plumbing, art and literature had already become part of who we are.

But who were those first advanced societies—how long ago did they begin, and how did they maintain sophisticated knowledge despite the trauma of worldwide natural catastrophes? In the history of human literature, these questions have driven some of our finest, most inquiring minds to write some of our finest, most inspiring epics.

“Where did we come from?”  remains the basis for and exploration of some of our most inspired and inspiring works of fiction and nonfiction. It is the most compelling investigation of the human mind.

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Tom Cross, Brian Froud, and Howard Zimmerman

Today is the fourth anniversary of the death of my dear friend Tom Cross. At fifty-four, having never smoked a day in his life, he died of lung cancer. He was an artist, an environmentalist, a writer, a visionary, a coastal-ecology expert who testified in court and before Congress on wetlands conservation. But he made his living by drawing magic: wizards and fairies. Before the advent of Photoshop, Tom worked with a partner, a photographer, to produce darkroom wonders combining photographic and artistic elements into a seamless whole that was a magical environment, a fairyland. He created and illustrated two books, The Way of Wizards and Fairy Garden: A Guide to the Fairies of the Flowers. And he created a series of bestselling prints featuring wizards and fairies that are still available.

I first met Tom some thirty-odd years ago, when I was editor in chief of Starlog magazine and he walked into my office with his portfolio. He walked out, a couple of hours later, with assurances that he would be interviewed and featured, along with his work, in a future issue. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened. He had seen several other publishers and editors in his NYC sojourn, and none of them had reacted this way. I, on the other hand, knew exactly what had occurred: I had met a talented, visionary artist who understood the natural way of things, the meta-ecology of planet Earth.

"The Summons," by Tom Cross

We revered many of the same artist and illustrators, both current and classic. In 1982, Brian Froud’s work on The Dark Crystal, a groundbreaking fantasy by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, was profiled in the pages of Starlog. There were many books published about the movie, including the work of Froud. And then, as luck would have it, I was invited to a book party for Froud, and Tom was in the city at the same time.  And so we went and met Brian Froud, which accounts for the photo. Tom was like a little kid asking Babe Ruth for an autograph, Froud was equally uncomfortable being the center of attention, but we all got along just fine.

Because Tom’s real talent was engaging people.  If you knew Tom, you were part of his large and ever-growing circle of friends, and he was very good at putting interesting folks from different paths together in the same space. Something positive, perhaps unexpected—but not by Tom—usually happened.

His wonderful wife Patti has kept Tom’s website active. Please visit and see for yourself how magic can be captured on canvass. (

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Over, But Just Beginning

The elections are over and President Obama has won an historic second term. The Affordable Care Act—yes, Obamacare—is here to stay, even if some Republican lawmakers are still in denial.

The Affordable Care Act is a huge, sprawling, encompassing piece of legislation that forces some people to find health care coverage of pay a fine, forces states to open competitive marketplaces, and brings literally tens of millions of new clients to the health-care-insurance industry. It is a piece of fundamental social architecture, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Social Security, and Medicare. Those all seem to be working for Americans, and so will the ACA.

For a brief and excellent tour through the details and opportunities the ACA brings, pick up a copy of Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works. This excellent little volume was put together by Jonathan Gruber, who worked on the ACA and before that helped write the Massachusetts health care reform act upon which the ACA was based.

Prodded by the book’s success and continuing relevance, our publisher, Hill & Wang, is exploring the possibility of adding new material to the book’s next printing. (It has already been back to press three times.) Professor Gruber, his writing partner HP Newquist, and illustrator extraordinaire Nathan Schreiber stand ready to take another dip into the health care reform pool and provide new and important information about what kicks in, when, and how it affects everyone. I always thought the book should have a sequel but it seemed apparent it could only be a stand-alone volume. Now, it has a chance to become its own sequel.

Kudos and congratulations to writer Dwight Jon Zimmerman and illustrator Wayne Vansant. Their latest book for Z File, The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery in America has just been nominated for inclusion in the YALSA Top Ten Graphic Novels of the Year list. YALSA is the Young Adult Library Services Association, an extraordinarily important group of dedicated men and women who review all young-adult works and recommend a chosen few to teachers, librarians, and kids across the country.

Dwight and Wayne’s previous volume, The Vietnam War: A Graphic History also received a YALSA nomination, in 2009, as well as a Gold Medal award from the Military Writers Society of America.

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NY Comic Con 2012

This year’s New York Comic convention at the Javitz Center was the biggest yet—in terms of both attendance and available floor space. Artists Alley was in a part of the center I never knew existed—the north pavilion—which turns out to be a lovely, large space, although it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the main show floor.

I always visit Artists Alley when I go to a con—you never know who you’re going to meet, discover, or see for the first time in ages. I got to spend some time with Dwight Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant (Vietnam: A Graphic History and The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery in America). The guys had a table and seemed to be enjoying the con. Also found the table of Z File’s favorite dark fantasy writer/scripter Steven A. Roman, creator/author of the novel Blood Feud: The Saga of Pandora Zweiback, and creator/scripter of Lorelei, the latest volume of which has a spiffy new cover painting by Esteban Moroto.

The one book I walked away from the con with is an amazing volume of graphic nonfiction by the gifted cartoonist John Backderf, commonly known as Derf. (You can follow his “The City” comic strip in Funny Times monthly.) Derf’s new book is called My Friend Dahmer. And, yes—it’s that Dahmer. Derf was a high school classmate of the notorious mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, and his stories are absolutely fascinating and compelling reading. The book features some of Derf’s best artwork and, as always, his storytelling is dead-on . . . although perhaps that phrase is a bit too on target.

The main convention area was the usual twelve-ring circus. What you see is many new, small boutique-type companies with one or two products or a small line of specialty items. Most will be gone by next year, replaced with a new set of folks with ideas they

are determined to make into “the next big thing.” I wish them all good luck. It is difficult to create something of quality, and even harder to then try to sell it. But we keep at it, because it’s better than working at a day job.

Howard Z.

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