I’ve long had a theory that there’s a certain golden window of opportunity when you’re wide open and vulnerable to falling under the magic spell of an art form or a sport or almost any other type of pursuit. Had I been exposed to DeBussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” at that golden moment, I might have become a composer . . . or a painter, had I seen Monet’s luminous Rouen Cathedral paintings. Instead, I walked into that elementary school auditorium and straight into The Phantom Empire. Years later, reading a biography of the comics artist Murphy Anderson, I saw that he also mentioned The Phantom Empire as an influence. Apparently, if you were of a certain bent, that baby was right in your wheelhouse.
The clincher came when I got my hands on my first comic book. My dad always deflected my early attempts to buy comic books when I’d spot them on the drugstore spinner racks by saying they were too violent. However, one day on a visit to our family dentist, there they were—scattered across a table in his waiting room. My eye was caught by a Hopalong Cassidy cover that showed Hoppy on horseback riding after two bandits escaping on rocking horses. Rocking horses! Now, I had seen Hopalong Cassidy on television, but never like this. Once again it was the juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic that captured my imagination. I just had to know what was going on there. Unfortunately, I was ushered in to see the dentist before I could read it and find how the writer resolved that seemingly insoluble conundrum. (I wasn’t to see that book again until many years later at a comics convention when there it was, just as I’d remembered it. It was late in the con weekend, and the dealer, a purveyor of only western comics, had obviously not been selling too many. I saw an opportunity to pick up that holy grail book at a reasonably inexpensive price. Unfortunately, as I was thinking that thought, I heard myself saying aloud, “I don’t believe it! I’ve been looking for this book my whole life!” The dealer was kind enough to at least let me keep my wallet.)
* From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One