Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Way of the Geek #14 – Steven Thompson, AKA Booksteve!

The Way of the Geek makes it's triumphant (if short-lived) return with a spotlight on Steven Thompson, better known to many of you as Booksteve! I feel I should publicly apologize to Steve, given that he'd sent me his responses to my questions long ago, and somehow I managed to lose them, until he contact me after I'd posted back in February that I'd run out of willing subjects! Fortunately, he still had his answers, and provided a new copy to me, along with some updated information! And so, without further ado...

Steve is probably best known to most of us for his blog Booksteve's Library, a very entertaining combination of his various geek interests, but his most recent claim to fame is A Geek's Journal-1976, wherein he posts entries from his own diary from that bygone age! Think of it as What If--? Blogs Existed in 1976! Steve also does a regular “Makin' Links” column on Craig Yoe's Super I.T.C.H. Blog, featuring links of interest to comic geeks (I've been fortunate enough to have a few of my blog entries here and on some of my other blogs featured there), as well as his Four-Color Shadows blog, which features an eclectic selection of comics stories of the past; Hooray for Wally Wood, which obviously focuses on the great Wally Wood; Shades of Gray, his Gray Morrow blog; Going for Broke – The Christa Helm Story, which focuses on the career and tragic murder of 70s starlet Christa Helm; Brittany Rose and Me, a photograph blog featuring his photos of friend Brittany Rose; and You're Only As Good as Your Last Picture, which focuses on the last movies various stars made in their career (which seems to be on an unfortunate hiatus). That's a lot of blogs! And some people think I put in a lot of work on my multiple blogs!

Steve was born in 1959, two blogs away from the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky, “...about 14 blocks northeast oof where I'm sitting now typing this,” he said. “The hospital is a bunch of fancy condos now. Wish I could afford to go back to my roots!” Steve's an only child, and noted that he lived a block away from that very hospital until he was 30. Two years after that, he married the woman he insists he was “literally destined to marry” (see his blog entry here for details). About his wife, Steve enthused, “Along with being the most wonderful and understanding wife ever, Rene is, herself, a STAR TREK/DR WHO/D&D geek! We are the proud parents of bookdave, the smartest, funniest, most politically and philosophically astute and downright coolest 13 year old geek-in-training ever!” Sounds like a keeper to me, Steve!

For more than a year, Steve's found himself “at lesiure” (in his words), following a 25-year career managing big and small bookstores and a library department. During that time, Steve said he's “keeping busy with a few freelance editing, proofreading, researching, transcription and ghostwriting gigs. Oh and, of course…my various blogs.”

Like many of us, Steve was a geek from his early childhood. “From the very beginning I was into cartoons! I had some comic books before 1966 but I credit the BATMAN TV series with starting me as a comic book collector. At first my mom would throw out my comics on a regular basis but then I showed her LOST IN SPACE star Billy Mumy talking about his collection on THE WOODY WOODBURY SHOW and she let me keep them from then on. (Years later, I was actual able to tell that story to Mr. Mumy in person.) Over time I also became a film buff, an old-time radio fan, a Trekker and discovered sixties music, Japanese television, DOCTOR WHO and monster mags! No one would ever play Trivial Pursuit with me—said I was a ringer. I've only ever played it it once,” he said. I'm sure many of us can relate to the Trivial Pursuit thing!

As you might have gathered if you've read Booksteve's Library, Steve's also a huge movie buff too, and noted, “As far as films, I love classics, of course (there’s a reason they’re classics), but I also have a huge soft spot for animated films, bad films, cult films, spaghetti westerns, Japanese monster movies silent comedies, Kung-Fu flicks, Hong Kong and French gangster films, serials, B movies, musicals, British comedies (both low and high brow) and 1970’s artsy hardcore pictures.” And I thought my tastes were eclectic! I have to bow down to the master here!

Looking back at his earliest geek memories, Steven recalled his early 1960s exposure to Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. Cartoons on TV. “I also recall watching Groucho Marx when I was still in my crib (no, seriously!). I loved it when the duck came down.” (for those who may not get his reference – and I hope there are few of you – Groucho was doing the television version of “You Bet Your Life” at this time, and part of the program involved a secret word which, if one of the contestants said it, a duck would pop down from the ceiling, and the “Hurray for Captain Spaulding” theme would play, and the contestant would win an extra bonus amount of money) Another early childhood memory involved the man in black known as Zorro! “I used to run around with a thick black crayon putting 'Zs' on everything!” he admitted. Steven was four years old when John F. Kennedy was killed, and remembered crying for hours because news coverage pre-empted The Three Stooges (as embarrassing as that memory might be to relate, Steven related that in the recent past, he's exchanged a couple of emails with Moe Howard's daughter).

Steve wasn't alone in his geekery, despite having a lack of siblings. In the third grade, he had a friend named Terry who was also into similar geekery. “We used to get together every few days and play with our Captain Action, GI Joe, Johnny West and Major Matt Mason toys! Sometimes we even used modeling clay and paper towels to turn the action figures into the JLA or the Avengers. When we weren’t doing that, we’d leap about the neighborhood as Powerman and Atomic Man or later Delta Man and the Leopard. For awhile, we would even draw our own fake comic book covers and trade them back and forth,” he recalled. “Over the years, he was with me for most of the grindhouse films of the seventies, the early comic cons, first rock concerts and even our first strip club visit but eventually we grew apart and fell out of touch. Thanks to the Internet, we reconnected recently and attended Cincinnati's HORRORFEST and then went to see THE GREEN HORNET.” As if all the above wasn't geeky enough, Steve admitted that he carried his complete set of 1966 Batman trading cards bulging out of his pocket to school every day of the second grade!

When it comes to childhood possessions, Steve did hang on to most of his old toys and comics over the years, although with his financial difficulties in recent years, he's had to sell most of them. “Sold my Give-a-Show projector (Frankenstein, Jr edition), Major Matt Mason toys and most of the now valuable comic books I hadn’t disfigured--We used to cut out our favorite poses and then rip off the covers, poke holes in the sides and put them in three ring binders. I still have a few of those with my original 40 year old plus comics!” In case anyone's wondering, no, I don't believe that I was the one who bought Steve's Give-A-Show Projector!

One thing that Steve and I have in common is collecting an entire run of a comic more than once. With me, it was Nova... with Steve, it's Tales of Suspense with Captain America and Iron Man! As an adult, he re-collected the entire run, “but after I got them all, I missed the thrill of collecting so I sold them, waited a few years and collected them again. Eventually I sold those, also. They’ve gone up so much I can’t afford to do it yet again now, though.” He noted that while he enjoys running across items he remembers from his childhood from time to time, he doesn't feel he needs to own them any more. “Even the bulk of my comics collection is virtual these days,” he admitted.

Given the above, one would think that perhaps Steve doesn't have much space in his house taken up with collectibles... unless, of course, you've seen the header graphic for Booksteve's Library! “There are 27 boxes in two rooms upstairs filled with good but not particularly collectible comics as well as a whole bunch of old monster, music, comics and movie mags. Add to that my 'work area' with a PC and a Mac in the corner backed with three bookcases of DVD’s, CD’s, books and my son’s videogames. Then there’s the actual library. When we bought this house in 1999, it had a huge dining room but like most Americans these days, we tend to eat in front of the TV so we turned the former dining room into a Library—19 bookcases and spinner racks. One whole bookcase of music and particularly Beatles-related titles, two of comic book histories, collections and graphic novels, one with several hundred mass market books, two on movies, two on television and radio, one on history and general pop culture, one for any and all oversized books and the rest miscellaneous, fiction or my wife’s religion or genealogy titles.” Now, I don't know about the rest of you reading this, but I personally would love to be able to spend a few days going through Steve's library of books and reading them!

I would definitely have to say that I'm jealous of Steve's most prized geek possession, autographs of Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone! “Apparently some fan walked through the NBC studios one night in 1933 (it’s dated on the back) and got everyone he (or she) could find to sign two little pieces of cardboard—announcers, singers, quiz hosts and Jack and Mary. My wife bought them for me two decades back. You can see them in the book Well! Reflections on the Life and Career of Jack Benny.”

Steve has some fond convention memories, beginning with his first one. “My very first convention was the First Annual (of only two) Cincinnati Comic Book Convention in January of 1975. It cost a buck and a quarter to get in and I only spent $28 dollars. Ten years later I was spending nearly a thousand at a time counting travel and hotels!” These days, Steve tends to miss the few conventions held in his area (in his words, they “usually sneak past me without notice.”), but he has attended a few Mid-Ohio Cons in Columbus in the past few years. Regular readers of his main blog won't find it surprising that the only convention he's never missed in the past 24 years is the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, which from his reports, sounds like a blast!

Steve's favorite conventions he's attended are the 1977 New York Comic Art Convention (“held that year in Philadelphia”) or his sole San Diego Con in 1988. The '88 SDCC coincided with Superman's 50th Anniversary, and Steve remembered, “I was part of a small group watching some of the old black and white first season SUPERMAN TV episodes with Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. When I was 4 years old my tricycle had been stolen and I cried myself to sleep watching an episode of the still in reruns fifties series so I always loved it. After two episodes at the Con, the lights came up and in walked Phyllis Coates pushing a 50th birthday cake for the Man of Steel. Right behind her was actor Robert Shayne who had played Inspector Henderson on the series! We all shared the delicious cake and then watched a couple more episodes only this time with live commentary!” At the same convention, Steve also attended a seminar with June Foray (best known as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, naturally) on cartoon voice acting. “Two decades later, I transcribed interviews for Ms. Foray’s autobiography that came out in 2009!” he said. I always wondered who got that transcription gig, and now I know!

Over the years, Steve's managed to meet and talk to a number of the folks he's been a fan of. He noted that a photo he took of Bob Layton and Mike Nasser at a 1977 convention led to him becoming friends with Nasser (now Michael Netzer) via the internet 30 years later. He also fondly recalled seeing Jack Kirby “when I literally bumped into him as he spoke with Will Eisner and Doug Wildey. I quickly crawled away.” He also remembered “I followed Stan Lee down the street for half an hour watching his hair blow in the breeze of a very windy day and wondering what was holding it on.”

Non-comics folk that Steve's encountered include Bob Hope (who signed a book for Steve in 1976) and Lana Turner in 1982 (as noted in the blog entry I linked to above). “Once I started going to the OTR Cons I actually began performing onstage with a number of TV actors I knew from my youth such as Dennis the Menance actor Willard Waterman, Munsters director Ezra Stone, McHales Navy co-star Bob Hastings and Parley Baer, the voice of the Keebler Elf!”

His bookstore job also led him to meeting a few famous people, “including Grand Ole Opry singer Skeeter Davis for whom I actually put together her last full concert in this area, George Clooney’s parents (his mom gave me my very first video game system!), underground comix legend Justin Green, fitness guru Richard Simmons and porn star Ron Jeremy.” How's that for a mix?

Steve's blogs have also put him in touch with some people he's admired. “With the advent of the Net I was amazed to find folks I used to read in high school now paying attention to what I had to say on my blogs! Fred Hembeck, Tony Isabella, Craig Yoe, Mark Evanier, Jerry Beck, Don Rosa, Frank Buxton, Jim Harmon, Jim Engel and a whole bunch of comics writers and artists I admire (and even a few whose work I never cared for!). The brilliant painter and illustrator Jeff Jones (now Catherine)—whose paintings I saw on display in Philadelphia back in 1977—actually quoted me on her website this past year right under a quote from Frank Frazetta and then we became actual friends through email and Facebook. More recently, I’ve actually started to interview folks for my blog including acting teacher and Groundlings vet, Kip King and the sixties Dr Pepper girl, singer Donna Loren.” Ah, the rewards of being a geek blogger!

As you might guess, working in bookstores has had Steve working (if somewhat peripherally) in a geek-related field. He and his wife have also sold stuff at a few comic book conventions in the 90s, and he's had a number of articles published in comics and radio-related magazines and books. Speaking of books, his “You're Only As Good As Your Last Picture” blog originally started off intending to be a book by the same title. He began working on it in 1990 or so, but said he didn't get anywhere, and he decided to doing as a blog instead, years later. He noted this was probably his most unusual geek interest, and said, “Never met or heard from anyone else specifically into them, but I have gotten lots of good feedback on the pieces I’ve written so far.”

These days, Steve can spend up to 14 hours a day on his geek interests, “either working on various writing/photography projects at one of my computers, blogging on my 8 blogs (as well as at Craig Yoe’s ITCHblog), listening to OTR online, watching DVD’s of ancient and obscure TV shows or films most people have never heard of, reading non-fiction or comic books.” His blogging inspiration was artist Reed Waller, “whose blog I discovered while looking up details on the death of his former partner in life as well as on the adult comic, OMAHA, THE CAT DANCER. My wife and I had met them at Chicago Con in 1990 when they were still a couple and they were absolutely the friendliest pros we had ever met. I was very sad when she died but became impressed and intrigued with the outlet Reed had in which to write about it. I was already a fan of Mark Evanier’s pop culture updates and reminiscences and decided to give this whole 'weblog' idea a spin myself.”

Steve noted other geek inspirations, many of whom are his fellow bloggers. “Definitely Mark Evanier, whose name I first saw in connection with those 'Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom' way back circa 1968. He edited the MARVELMANIA fan club magazine, became Jack Kirby’s sidekick, wrote Hanna Barbera characters for comics and cartoons, revived BLACKHAWK, writes cartoons and sitcoms, directs cartoon voice acting, knows everybody and has a great story about everything! Heck, even his girlfriend is the daughter of POGO creator Walt Kelly! His blog is a wonderfully eclectic pop culture mix that I can only hope mine compare to in some small way. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Mark a little through the Net and even work with him on one project!”

A shared geek inspiration with me would be “Don and Maggie Thompson whose infectious love of comics in books like All In Color for a Dime and publications like The Comics Buyers' Guide, led me to stick with the hobby at a time when I was growing away from it. They also were an inspiration to my writing and turned me on to a number of new geek passions including Dr. Who! I met Don once at a Con and I’ve spoken on the phone with Maggie. I’ve recently become acquainted with their delightful daughter, Valerie, also!”

Another inspiration first encountered in All In Color for a Dime is Jim Harmon, “whose The Great Radio Heroes helped foster my OTR passion. Mr. Harmon also made me a professional fiction writer when, as editor, he purchased what would be my first published short story for the anthology, IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN, Vol 3.”

The last geek inspiration Steve noted was Craig Yoe, “whose fascination with comics history I first encountered in the pages of CBG and with whom I have recently been privileged (again) to work with both as an unofficial Media Consultant for YoeBooks as well as an early member of his I.T.C.H.—the International Team of Comics Historians. I've just recently finished writing portions of Craig's upcoming coffee-table history of Archie Comics, now orderable through Amazon.”

Steve's blogging has undergone a huge evolution since it began, he said. “My original blog was, in fact, called BARNABY POP (after one of my favorite comic strips) and few if any readers probably saw it when it was a working blog. I abandoned it after only a handful of posts in the first few weeks because it was directionless and at that point, Blogger was nowhere near as user-friendly as it has since become. A year later, however, BARNABY POP came back to bite me when one of my co-workers chose to 'stalk' me on the Net and then showed it to their friends, leading to a controversy at work. My argument was that they did this completely on their own, I was doing nothing wrong, the blog had been long abandoned and I shouldn’t be held responsible that THEY claimed to be offended by anything there. In a fit, I chose to delete the whole thing although being me I DID print out everything I had published there first, if only for posterity.”

After this experience, some people would've been soured on the idea of starting a new blog, but Steve recalled, “soon enough a theme struck me—I had stuff! How about a blog in which I share info and stories about my stuff!!?? This time I worked on promoting it in earnest and quickly developed regular readers. I chose to as much as possible avoid printing copyrighted materials aside from fair use. I chose also to highlight the “booksteve” brand name over my own. It was already my email persona as I was working with books so BOOKSTEVE’S LIBRARY was born.”

Regular features of Booksteve's Library include “Random Panels of Comic Book Weirdness” (which I particularly enjoy) and “Movies that Fell Through the Cracks,” in which Steve shares newspaper ads of obscure films from the 1970s and early 1980s, all from his own huge collection. It was the latter feature that probably led him to some of his most personally rewarding work, he recalled. “The first film I chose for the Movies That Fell Though the Cracks series turned out to be arguably one of the most obscure films of all time as it was never released at all after it premiered here in the Cincinnati area. That was Let's Go For Broke, which led to me actually getting involved in the cold case squad’s investigation of the murder of the picture’s star, Christa Helm. Eventually I hooked up with author John O’Dowd and Christa’s daughter and we worked on a biography as well as with the CBS TV series, 48 Hours Mystery in covering her still unsolved 1977 stabbing death. I even found and obtained a copy of what may well have been the sole remaining print of Let's Go For Broke! All that, with our 'thank you' credits on the CBS episode, is probably my proudest blog achievement and later led to a whole new blog for me on Christa Helm.”

Other rewards that have followed from Steve's blogging include new virtual friends and “a little money from ads and donations—not much to speak of but all greatly appreciated as we were having major financial problems for awhile even when I was working and almost lost our house. There was, also, one marvelous and favorite comics creator whom I shall leave unnamed who actually paid for an operation our dog needed a few years ago after I blogged about his condition! Just deposited the money in my PayPal account and said there was more if needed! Wow!”

It's always nice when you start a new blog and it gets a lot of attention quickly, and that's just what happened to Steve. “My latest blog, A GEEK'S JOURNAL-1976, immediately became something of a miniature Internet phenomenon when AOL picked it up to plug and displayed my ultra-geeky high school senior picture for millions of people to see worldwide! With reviews from sites in Belgium, Germany and the Russian Federation, I was called 'a brave, brave man' for posting my high school diary online with annotations!”

Among the blogs Steve reads on a regular basis are (Steve noted, “I hate to leave out anyone so I’ll just go with the first five that pop to mind as I write this. To everyone else, I’m sorry!”) Diversions of the Groovy Kind, Grantbridge Street, Golden Age Comic Book Stories, Greenbriar Picture Shows, and Electronic Cerebrectomy.

Steve noted that while his wife has some interest in the things he loves, she has her own geek interests, such as Anita Blake novels and comics, Star Trek fanfic and British sci-fi. His son has been a longtime Legion of Super-Heroes fan, and is also into hip cartoons like Kim Possible, the Beatles, Japanese pop music, and video games. No doubt due to Steve's involvement, his son is also “an expert on the “\'Paul is dead rumor since he was about 8 years old. He gets regular lessons on comics history, music history and cartoon history from dear old dad. I also force him on occasion to watch the Marx Brothers, the Thin Man and recently My Mother, The Car.” Good to see that he's preparing the next geek generation!

When Steve does geek shopping in person, he tends to go to Northern Kentucky's Comic Book World, Half-Price Books and Borders. Mostly, though, he shops online, preferring iOffer to eBay.

What do Steve's geek interests mean to him? “They’re important because at the end of the day, they’re me. One thing that blogging has done has to remind me that without my love of the minutiae of movies, TV, comics, etc…I’m pretty boring. My 1976 self has turned out to be surprisingly hip just because of the things that made him so un-hip back in the day.” To his fellow geeks, he wanted to remind us “Just that it is a good time to be a geek. It was looked down on for most of my life and yet now the geeks are the ones running the entertainment world. When you get to feeling that the rest of the world sucks—as we all do from time to time—revel in your geekdom, people!”

Thanks, Steve... or should I say, Booksteve!

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