I’ve been on a quest for about 16 years researching my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s life and work. In the halls of the Court of Comic Book Land I’ve encountered Courtiers who would flatter one out of the few gold pieces held. I crossed swords with an Evil Wizard who is still lurking about. And I thought I had found the one true Knight but he turned out to be a rusty Tin Man without a heart, no brain and poor thing, is cowering in the bushes–and I thought I was the scaredy cat! On the other hand I have gathered at the roundish table several brave and true Knights who will don their armor and do battle for me. I’ve also found a few Wise Men and Women that shine a light upon the sometimes dark path. I would never have gotten this far without the Allies of surrounding kingdoms who have helped to keep me in bread and wine. The best part of the journey is the Good Companions well met who keep my spirits up. And a good thing too as I’ve fallen into the mire more than a time or two, lost my way in the deep woods and been knocked off my steed into the dust. In the requisite skirmishes for the Kingdom of Comics I’ve lost a couple of battles here and there and made one or two enemies.
I am the proverbial fool from the Tarot deck stepping off into the void whistling a tune, a juggler trying to keep all the plates spinning and Dorothy blithely skipping down the Yellow Brick Road. But somehow through all the ups and downs I’ve managed to keep going. A good friend who knows most of the gritty details recently asked me if I would describe myself “tough as nails.” Not by a long shot! I’ve cried buckets and like a mealy mouthed Melanie from GWTW fallen on the fainting couch for months after being pushed out of the cafeteria by the mean girl table. It takes courage and a spirit of adventure to keep going forward in the face of impossible odds. There is a difference between being tough as nails and having courage and an adventurous spirit. The difficulties I’ve encountered have helped me feel in my bones the inherited DNA of the Major’s determination throughout his life to courageously face the enemy in battle and in life. I have refused to give up and now here we are near the end of this journey with a book of the Major’s adventure stories, The Texas-Siberia Trail recently published by Off-Trail Publications, a biography of the Major’s life in the making with Gerard Jones as a co-author who is one of the best writers and historians in the industry, and several other exciting media projects in the works.
In the process of organizing my overwhelming mounds of research for our upcoming bio, Lost Hero, The Adventurous and Tragic Life of the Man Who Invented Comic Books I’ve discovered bits and pieces that reveal some of the moments from the long journey. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll showcase some of the people who have helped me along the way and their thoughts about comics and comic book history. I’m beginning with a post from my friend Francis DiMenno. Francis is an erudite Harvard graduate and a librarian who loves comics. He wrote his thesis on Comic Books and he was one of the first scholars I interviewed about comics history at least 10 years ago. Francis reveals the basics of how the industry began and who was there. He discusses the connection between the pulps and the comics. Since the Major is an important link between the two it’s fitting that we start our journey with his post. Feel free to add your own thoughts about How It All Began.