"Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
- Gary Numan, "Cars"
It was a simple question, inspired by my family's purchase of a 2004 Mercury Monterey van, my dubbing it THE BIG CHEESE based on its alleged "gold ash" coloration, and my Sainted Wife Barbara's subsequent aversion to that name.
Do you name your cars?
It was a simple question, which, despite my dropping a comics character or two into the mix - Batman, Green Arrow, Blue Beetle - didn't have much to do with the comic books and comic-book business we usually discuss in these parts.
I never expected to receive dozens of e-mails responding to my question. However, I was delighted by the humor and insights they contained and knew that I had to share at least some of them with the rest of you.
This won't be a long trip, but there will be some pit stops along the way.
My pal Jon Knutson wrote:
The first named car I encountered was my friend Mark's car. I forget the make and model, but he called it FRED, an acronym for Freaking Ridiculously Expensive Device. This first car he had ever owned met its demise while he was driving from San Diego to Tacoma. It went off the road and took a few tumbles before coming to rest. Fortunately, Mark survived with only a few bruises.
About the time FRED died, I got my second car, a Toyota Tercel which I named YODA. That was partly because that's how many people pronounce the last two syllables of Toyota and partly because it, too, was an acronym: Your Own Dang Automobile.
Okay, I used stronger language than "Dang," just as Mark used stronger language than "Freaking," but one can't use that kind of language in CBG.
Two cars later, I had a Chrysler Laser. It was used, but it was fully loaded with every gadget conceivable at the time. It was charcoal grey and I had to call it...the Batmobile. Its fate was sealed when its transmission tore itself apart and the repair job would have cost more than the car was worth. I suspect this was the work of the Joker, that car-toon of crime.
My current car is...the MacMobile. It's a Ford Taurus named for the Macintosh computer that made it possible for me to buy it. So far, so good.
One other "named" car I know of used to belong to my brother Jeff. It was a red Ford Probe. Because of its name and color, I christened it with a nickname familiar to those who read stories of alien abduction, a nickname way too rude to share with the readers of your dignified column.
PIT STOP #1.
My favorite fantasy car of all time would have to be the Batmobile of the 1950s as so dynamically depicted by the great Dick Sprang. It had that big bat-head-shaped cow-catcher on the front and, although the Comics Code would not have allowed the stories to reflect this, I *knew* that the sight of that automotive monster racing towards them would have turned most Gotham criminals into a superstitious, incontinent lot.
Batman always had way cool cars; I wouldn't throw any of them out of my garage. The Batmobile used for the 1960s TV series has an entire website devoted to it:
Builder George Barris utilized a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car for his first TV Batmobile and the 1966 Ford Galaxie for later versions. A friend of mine bought a kit for converting a car into the TV Batmobile, but, as of the last time we spoke about it, had not located a suitable Ford Galaxie for its body. God help me, but I might actually be willing to wear the Robin costume for a ride in that baby.
CBG reader Charlie Cockett suggested alternate names for THE BIG CHEESE:
How about THE VAN OF BRONZE? I used that name for our Dodge Caravan until its wheels fell off. Another good possibility would be VINCENT VAN GOLD. Or, since it's a Mercury Monterey, you could call it MAX MERCURY, MASTER OF SPEED.
Since I have your attention, my current minivan is a dark blue Oldsmobile Silhouette which my wife and I named INDIGO VANTOYA. I long for the day I can put a sign on the passenger side dashboard that reads:
"Hello! My name is Indigo Vantoya. You filled my gas tank. Prepare to drive."
PIT STOP #2.
Pulp adventure hero Doc Savage had some pretty cool cars as well, but what I remember most about them is that he used to let his aides do the driving while he rode on the running boards. I was never clear what Doc was holding on to, but that had to have been quite a sight to see.
There have been times when I wish my cars had running boards, so I could do the Doc Savage thing myself. Fortunately, a voice in my head talks me out of this with but two words:
PIT STOP #3.
After reading Charlie's suggestions, I asked my mythology-challenged wife and children what they thought of calling the van HERMES. They stared at me blankly until Eddie sheepishly asked, "Like the character from FUTURAMA?"
Bob and Karen Kuebler sent me this:
I grew up in California and was a teenager in the early 1950s. If you've seen the movie AMERICAN GRAFFITI, you've seen my youth. My first car was a 1940 pink Ford customized coupe called GOOFUS. My 1957 black Chevy Nomad was THE NOMAD and had that lettered on the back fenders along with striping, customizing, and gold flames on the hood and fenders.
I'm jumping around as I have owned 31 cars; most are what you would call "special interest cars." The car we bought for my wife when she earned her MBA was a new 1986 red Ford Taurus. We called it BOBBY'S GIRL, which is my name and also the first 45-rpm record my wife bought as a teenager.
Presently, our beloved Mazda MPV van is called SAGE for its green color. Our beautiful black 1988 Lincoln Mark VIII coupe is called ABE. Our two previous cars were a red 1997 Mustang called RED RIDER and a 2000 Ford Explorer named THE ENTERPRISE, although it should've been called THE EXPLODER. That last one was what you call a Monday car.
PIT STOP #4.
The first time I realized how much someone could love a car was when I read DC's HOT WHEELS #5 [December, 1970) and Alex Toth's "The Case of the Curious Classic." The 16-page tale is practically a love letter to the Cord referred to in the title. The story is as classic as the car.
My pal Len Wein wrote for both DC's HOT WHEELS and Gold Key's subsequent MOD WHEELS. I'm closing in on a complete collection of the latter. When I achieve that goal, I'll write about the comics somewhere or another...because no comic is too obscure to fail to catch my interest.
Blessing or curse? You decide.
From Jason Allen:
I've never told my family this, but I named each of my cars. The silver Pontiac 6000 was THE SILVER BANSHEE, the blue Pontiac Grand Am was THE BLUE DEVIL, and my current red Pontiac Sunfire is THE SCARLET SPEEDSTER. The only alternative name for your new van that comes to mind is THE GOLDEN GLIDER.
From Alan Curl:
I'm an inveterate car-namer. It started with a bicycle named TRIGGER. I currently drive a 2000 GMC Safari van named THE MYSTERY MACHINE.
PIT STOP #5.
You all know how much I loved Jack Kirby and his work. I hope he and you can forgive me for snickering every time I recall the super-car driven by Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion in Jack's issues of Jimmy's comic. Just saying WHIZ WAGON turns me into an eight-year-old boy again.
And what the heck was up with that bathtub-shaped FANTASTI-CAR he and writer-editor Stan Lee inflicted on Reed Richards and team in the early issues of FANTASTIC FOUR? That was the best Richards could come up with? Just imagine how embarrassing their car would have been if Reed called himself MISTER PRETTY GOOD.
Scott Alden wrote:
I think naming cars is most common among people who are less than "car nuts." In my house, that's my wife. I have a Mercedes 400E that she named OTTO when I bought it, but I've never called it that. Her cars have typically received temporary birth names, but have gotten their "real" names until part way into ownership. Her 1993 Jeep Cherokee became known as THE HEAP because, not only did pieces tend to routinely fall off, it went through four water pumps while we owned it.
The point of this note is that it's okay to live with THE BIG CHEESE for awhile. However, you need to wait for a few months for the car to reveal its true name.
This last letter - for now - comes from my fellow Ohioan and comics fan "Doc" Lehman:
I'm in the auto racing business; I write for a half-dozen auto racing and operate a website:
A majority of race car drivers, from NASCAR down to local dirt track racing, routinely give their cars names. Many big-budgeted teams, even in dirt track racing, have multiple cars that carry special names, most with a story behind them.
On a personal note, I'm 47, and have owned 56 vehicles that have been registered with the State of Ohio. I named Cadillac El Dorado THE BROWN BEAUTY and it was! I had another white Cadillac El Dorado that I named...never mind. I'll just say that it started with a "B".
I have cars like the Ford Aerostar you put out to pasture. No matter how old they got, no matter how rough they looked, they kept running and running and running with only the occasional oil change and basic tune-up needed.
PIT STOP #6.
I couldn't stretch my comics-buying budget quite far enough when I was a youngster to afford the various car racing comics published by Charlton in the 1960s. But HOT RODS RACERS, DRAG 'N' WHEELS, TEENAGE HOTRODDERS, and others fascinated me nonetheless. My dad always owned practical and solid cars. Those hot rods in the Charlton mags were as alien to me as the spaceships in MYSTERY IN SPACE and STRANGE ADVENTURES.
Many of the best Charlton racing comics were drawn and written by Jack Keller, whose crisp line and clear storytelling I enjoyed in Marvel's KID COLT OUTLAW. I still don't have anything close to an understanding of auto racing, but one thing in Keller's racing comics that comes across loud and clear is his love for the sport and those souped-up machines.
"Doc" Lehman was also a Keller fan and has written a wonderful tribute to both the artist and those comics of olde. "Summer, Race Cars, and Comic Books" can be read online at:
Much to everyone's surprise, I'm still driving our 1993 Ford Aerostar van, which I now call THE BLUE BOMBER. Oh, sure, it does creak a bit every now and then, but so do I. I use it for errands around town, especially when I'm going to be parking in lots where a newer van like THE BIG CHEESE would be an irresistible target for dinks and scratches. I think the Isabella family will breathe this great collective sigh of relief when THE CHEESE does get that first battle scar. The suspense is driving us crazy.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1591 [May 14, 2004], which shipped April 26. The cover story was COMIC LIFE, INTERRUPTED, which reported on the events of and subsequent to the DOONESBURY strip for Monday, April 19, 2004, in which B.D. was wounded while serving in Iraq and lost his leg below the knee. The cover story was written by CBG associate editor James Mishler, who also wrote a longer story within the issue.
The secondary lead was JOSH NEUFELD RECEIVES XERIC GRANT. The New York-based cartoonist will use the grant money to publish A FEW PERFECT HOURS (AND OTHER STORIES FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA AND CENTRAL EUROPE), a 120-page graphic novel. Having enjoyed Neufeld's travel comics over the years, I'm looking forward to having a big chunk of them in a single volume. Keep an eye out for this one, which will be sub-distributed by Alternative Comics and is scheduled to make its debut at SPX 2004, in Bethesda, Maryland.
Today's column is the fourth-last weekly column I did for CBG. I was very much in a "taking care of old business" mode as I wrote it. My last column, which will post on May 28 or thereabouts, also falls into that category. Both columns deal with subjects I wanted to cover before the format change rendered them unsuitable for CBG. I could be somewhat self-indulgent when writing 52 columns a year for a publication, but that would be a disservice to my editors and my readers when that number is reduced to 12.
Some things I intended to do in CBG will doubtless end up in this online venue. I still want to visit the area comics shops and report them. That will start once the school year is over, giving my kids and I a break from our summer routines.
Many readers have asked if I'll be reviewing all of the FREE COMIC BOOK DAY comics this year. I'm not sure, but it's certainly a possibility. Any store owners out there want to send me all the freebies in exchange for plugs in such columns?
The majority of readers want to see these online columns focus on new and old comics reviews, but I'm going to continue to venture into other areas to keep things interesting for all of us. In that regard, don't be shy about sending me your suggestions for future topics. I'm definitely open to them.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The question was: Have you rearranged your comics in the last year? How and why?
This is as cruel a question as my CBG editors have ever asked. Of course, that may just be my way of taking it.
Late last summer, I had to move a ton of comics from my water-logged basement to storage...and the process is still continuing to this day. I've also had to condense and move boxes of unread comic books to accommodate various household projects...and that process is also continuing to this day.
What hasn't happened is my finding the extra eighth and ninth days in the week to:
a) move all the comics to storage as a prelude to organizing them in some semblance of logic;
b) start selling the 50-75% of the tens of thousands of comic books that I no longer want on eBay; and,
c) sort and index what's left so that I can actually find an individual issue when I need it.
Talk about your impossible dreams!
Every week, I post new questions on our TONY POLLS page. Last week's questions concerned DC's forthcoming Julius Schwartz tribute comics. Here's how you voted:
DC Comics is publishing eight "Tribute to Julius Schwartz" comics this summer. Are you planning to buy them?
Would you support other series of tribute comics for other DC editors, writers, and artists?
Which of these DC editors would you most like honored in a similar fashion?
I can't imagine any of my readers will be surprised to learn I vote in the affirmative on the first two questions. The comics industry doesn't do nearly enough to honor the talents which built it and kept it going from the start to the present.
On the editor question, I voted for MURRAY BOLTINOFF because I don't feel he receives nearly enough credit for the great comics he helmed...and because he was always very kind to me as a fan and (briefly) as a fellow DC editor. But I wouldn't quibble with the fans who voted for Weisinger or Kanigher; both contributed mightily to DC's success in the 1960s.
I was disappointed to see how few votes Schiff received. If it weren't for my personal regard for Boltinoff, I would have voted for Schiff. He was, by all accounts, a man of good character who championed progressive causes...and produced some very entertaining comic books while doing so.
This week's TONY POLLS questions are my attempt to discover if my readers are buying the comics I review. They went up on Monday and will remain active until sometime Sunday. I may also add one more question by the time this column posts.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: