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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 3.48

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

I dedicate this Tail of the Weak to the memory of one of my earliest heroes who passed away November 12, 2018. May you rest in peace, Stan Lee. Excelsior!

Comic book genius Stan Lee.  Dec 28, 1922 - Nov 12, 2018
Comic book genius Stan Lee. Dec 28, 1922 - Nov 12, 2018

By 1964, I had lived in Tripoli, Libya —where I'd had my Christmas cowboy suit swiftly and systematically removed from my body by a band of young, Arab bandits —I had fallen in love with the music of Hank Williams, Sr., Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Elvis, The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles—and was now poised for a new discovery.

My Aunt Quita and Uncle L. T. Laughinghouse owned Little Star Food Store on Albany Avenue in Waycross, Georgia. As a child, Mama would often take us across town to visit with her younger sister in the little block store building sitting right on Highway 82, where big semi trucks would thunder noisily down the narrow two-lane street.

Not a big fan of loud trucks, I would scoot inside to the safety of Little Star Food Store, where they had everything. Four short aisles carried can goods, cereal boxes, soap, potato chips, detergent, toilet paper, cookies, crackers, fresh meats, produce, and dairy products. It was a smaller version of the big grocery stores in Waycross—Colonial and Setzer's—where Mama and Grandma Carter did their weekly shopping.

We didn't go to Little Star to shop. We were there to visit—at least Mama was. After Aunt Quita would bestow on us generous gifts of candy from behind the counter—and a bottle of strawberry milk, sporting a logo of an alligator and palmetto bushes, fished from the ice-cold waters of the red, Coca-Cola chest dispenser—I would settle down at the comic book rack.

Why I didn't take note of Marvel comics until 1964—The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were both introduced in '61—I don't remember. It may have been due to the overwhelming popularity of Superman, Batman, or Archie. Or perhaps it was the initial premise of writer-editor Stan Lee to design Marvel superheroes that would appeal to older readers.

L-R: Stanley, Jack, Larry, and Celia Lieber.  Dec 28, 1931
L-R: Stanley, Jack, Larry, and Celia Lieber. Dec 28, 1931

Stanley Martin Lieber was born in Manhattan, New York City on December 28, 1922 in the apartment of his Jewish immigrant parents, Celia (Solomon) and Jack Lieber. As a child, he loved books and movies, particularly Errol Flynn's heroic roles in The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Captain Blood.

A student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, Stan Lieber dreamed of writing the “Great American Novel” and took part-time jobs—writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. Hey, you got to start somewhere!

In 1939, he hired on as an assistant at Timely Comics—the company that would evolve into Marvel Comics—delivering lunches to the writers, filling inkwells for the artists, and proofreading.

Stan Lee in the early Forties
Stan Lee in the early Forties

His writing debut, under the pseudonym Stan Lee, came in May 1941 with the text filler, “Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge”, in Captain America Comics #3. At the age of 19, Lee was promoted to interim editor at Timely Comics, followed by a stint in the U. S. Army until 1945, and a return to the industry he loved, becoming art director, editor-in-chief, and in 1972, publisher of Marvel Comics.

Lee is credited with introducing complex, flawed characters as superheroes who were prone to bad tempers, fits of vanity, boredom, and anxiety—imperfect people with natural problems like bills, romantic issues, or physical illnesses. In '61, along with artist Jack Kirby, his first superhero creation, The Fantastic Four, was hugely successful, leading the pair to co-create legendary characters—Hulk, The X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, and Spider-Man.

The Avengers.  Nov 1964
The Avengers. Nov 1964

In 1964, I was a peculiar 11-year-old kid with a penchant for collecting things. With only a dime and two pennies, I bought my first copy of The Avengers—featuring Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, the Wasp, and Captain America—and I was hooked.

The books, written by Stan Lee, often overlapped characters, with cameo appearances by other heroes and villains—Captain America vs. the Red Skull, Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin—and new issues were waiting to be discovered—

The Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil, and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

I bought 'em all, and collated them into nice, orderly stacks on the shelves in my bedroom.

Following Daddy's return after a year in Vietnam, the Air Force moved us to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. The Little Base Exchange replaced Little Star Food Store—though there was no Aunt Quita and free candy—and I continued to collect more Marvel titles—Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, and Rawhide Kid.

Along with the Marvel comic books, I started short-lived collections of Sport and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines, along with monster model kits made by Aurora.

Peculiar? More like consumed and obsessed—plagued, and possessed. The last series of Marvel comics I put money into was The Ghost Rider, which debuted in February, 1967. It wasn't the Nicolas Cage, flame-headed, motorcycle rider, but rather a white-masked cowboy avenger—dressed in white from hat to boots—white cape flying in the wind—riding a white stallion named Banshee. No wonder I was ready to move on.

Finished with comics, I turned my attention to the Boy Scouts, joining local Troop 320 and immediately taking a subscription to Boy's Life magazine. As time passed and high school interests took hold, I placed all of my Marvel comics and Boy's Life magazines in a big box, storing them in the backyard shelter.

Feeling a little nostalgic on a weekend visit home from Georgia Southern College during my freshman year, I sought shelter among my childhood memories and eased out to our backyard shelter to recover the cardboard box containing my Marvel memories.

Where was it? Evidently not where I thought I had put it. I combed up and down every nook and cranny—on and below every shelf of the shed. Frustrated, I headed back inside the house and asked Mama if she'd seen my treasures. “Oh, I burned 'em last week,” she calmly replied as she washed the last dishes of the day.

In the long history of mama's, my mama was as sweet as they come. I couldn't bear for her to see my disappointment; so, I slipped on out of the kitchen and into my bedroom, where I stuffed my face in my pillow and screamed, “ARGHH!”—just like the Hulk yelled in panel 3, page 13, issue number 1 of The Avengers.

Justin Johnson showing off his MegaCon treasures.
Justin Johnson showing off his MegaCon treasures.

My oldest son, Justin Johnson, was a born collector—much more so than I ever was. I saw a little bit of myself in him; and, wanting to pass down my love of Marvel, I bought a vintage Daredevil comic, sleeved in plastic, from a store in Valdosta, and gave it to him on his ninth birthday. In 2000, he took the book to MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, where he got Stan Lee to autograph the cover.

Tribute to Stan Lee, courtesy of Ian Dunlop
Tribute to Stan Lee, courtesy of Ian Dunlop

Stan Lee died a very rich man, doing what he loved. I saw the other day where a near-pristine, first copy of X-Men sold for over $492,000. Now there is one serious comic book hobbyist.

If I still had my early worn-out, dog-eared issues of The Avengers or Captain America, they wouldn't be worth much to that comic book collector. But, I couldn't put a price on how much it would mean for me to hold them in my hands again and turn back the pages of time.

American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy


Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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