If I had to place blame on anyone I’d place it on Paul Gulacy. Or Michael Golden. Or Chris Claremont, Ralph
Macchio, Marshall Rogers, or Bob McLeod. As long as I’m naming names, I might as well add Robert E.
Howard, Jim Shooter, Lynn Graeme, Stan Lee, and Doug Moench to the list. They all bear partial
responsibility. Though I guess it’s really the fault of one man: John Bolton.
It was 1981. Joan Jett was displaying a BAD REPUTATION, Rush was busily MOVING PICTURES, and Phil
Collins had entered the solo spotlight at FACE VALUE. I was a junior in high school, a budding 16-year-old
student who dressed in goofy Trans Am and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND t-shirts. I took
general courses in the a.m. hours and a daily 3-hour commercial art course (at the area vocational-technical
school) in the afternoon. The morning schedule was blah. Blah civics. Blah mathematics. Blah English. Just
the usual basic blah stuff. I half-slept thorough each class in anticipation of the afternoon art instruction. But
there was one other a.m. class, and I’d been looking forward to it with wild anticipation: Driver’s Ed 101. The
driver’s ed course was taught by Mr. Clark, who was every bit a dead ringer for TAXI’S Reverend Jim
Ignatowski and equally as eccentric as the charismatic TV actor. When he wasn’t teaching diver’s education,
Mr. Clark taught U.S. History to freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Yough Senior High, in the
sleepy little borough of Herminie, Pa. Having been through his history course in my sophomore year (and
having actually enjoyed it), I was looking forward to a fun time behind the wheel under Mr. Clark’s tutelage.
The class met daily for 50 minutes (from 11:00 am to 11:50 am) and it consisted of Clark, myself, and two
other students—Ida Moorse and Janine DeSalva. The class was rather basic and most of our time was spent
on the road. There was no “classroom.” The road was, quite literally, our classroom and it was pretty much a
case of sink or swim. We alternated driving days; thus, on any given week the odds were favorable that you
could drive twice. Clark was a bit quiet, a bit edgy, and he had a passion for country-western music that would
make Brooks and Dunn seem like poseurs in their own industry. We drove the hills and valleys of the quiet
district in Eastern Pennsylvania known as Westmoreland County while a country star reminded us that her
baby took the morning train and worked from 9 to 5—something I guess we were supposed to aspire to do
I was a good driver.
Permit me to rephrase that last statement. I was a good driver in the sense that Dustin Hoffman (as Ray
Battitt) in RAIN MAN was a good driver. However, my driving talent isn’t savant related. From early in my
childhood I’ve always feared having head-on collision… with anything; car, bike, brother, you name it. Which
is why, during my brief tenure as a little-leaguer, I always hung outside the plate when standing in the batter’s
box—didn’t wanna get into a head-on with the oncoming fastball pitch. This fear stayed with me though
adolescence, which is, I suppose, why I typically pulled the car away from the center of the road during my first
few turns behind the wheel.
One cool February morning I was driving on Route 51, a modest roadway that ran adjacent to the high school.
Mr. Clark sat in the passenger’s seat, his impatience brewing like a volcano. Ida and Janine were in the back
seat. The Statler Brothers were on the FM. There were no vehicles in front of me, but plenty of oncoming
traffic, and most of it trucks. As I’d done on previous occasions, I hung the vehicle toward the shoulder of the
“Straighten ‘er out. You’re gonna go off the road!” Clark exclaimed, his hands pressed against the Dodge’s
“Right,” I replied, but as I rounded a blind corner I steered the car wildly to the right as I caught sight of an
oncoming semi, and Mr. Clark’s warning suddenly turned to prophecy. The tires kicked up loose gravel that
pelted the chassis of the Dodge Aries like flack against the belly of a World War II B-1 bomber. I kicked hard
at the brake as the sedan skidded to a reluctant halt. There was a haunting moment of silence as everyone
within the car paused to catch their collective breath. The lecture that followed was an amalgam of instruction,
criticism, and obscenity, though it succeeded in curing me of this less-than-stellar driving motif. I suppose I
was more afraid of catching a head-on from Mr. Clark than of kissing the grille of a Peterbilt at 55 miles per
hour. My driving acumen improved over the ensuing weeks, though I won’t kid you into thinking I was on my
way to becoming the next Al Uncer or Richard Petty.
So what does any of this have to do with artist John Bolton?
If you are at all familiar with Marvel magazines of the mid-to-late 1970s, you may recall MARVEL PREVIEW
(which in 1981 Jim Shooter renamed as BIZARRE ADVENTURES). I was 16, and did not live near a comics
specialty shop or newsstand—just one of life’s many ironies considering that, by this time, comics had become
as important to me as oxygen. The Internet was years away, and comic book mail order houses were few and
far between. As a result, it was no easy task to maintain my comic book addiction. None of my friends had
cars or driver’s licenses. I had a Pennsylvania learner’s permit, which enabled me to take driver’s ed.
However, by no means was I permitted to borrow my parent’s car (not that I would have been able to handle it
even if given permission, but more on that later). This meant that I spent a considerable amount of my free
time accompanying my mom and dad on countless trips to grocery stores, hardware stores, malls—basically
any store that sold, might sell, or was near to a store that did sell comics—when I would otherwise have
preferred (like most teens) to have remained home alone. The tobacconist (yea, we had a tobacconist) at the
Norwin Shopping Plaza had become the place to satiate my growing hunger for all-things-Marvel—an appetite
that included magazines as well as comics. At that time, Marvel was publishing but a few magazines, most
notably—SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, BIZARRE ADVENTURES, RAMPAGING HULK, and MARVEL SUPER
SPECIAL. Granted, a copy of BIZARRE ADVENTURES was no small expense ($1.25—about the price of three
standard-sized comics); however, I’d gotten hooked on the title while it was being published as MARVEL
PREVIEW, so there was no going back.
Issue 25 of BIZARRE ADVENTURES was entitled LETHAL LADIES. It starred a bevy of Marvel’s more hit-and-
run females (such as the Black Widow and the Daughters of the Dragon) as well as a new character named
Lady Daemon. The issue was a veritable who’s who of talent (including Michael Golden, Marshall Rogers, and
Paul Gulacy). But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this magazine was a short feature on page 62 by
editor Lynn Graeme entitled “Sneak Preview.” It featured a 1-page appetizer of KULL: DEMON IN A SILVERED
GLASS, by writer Dough Moench and artist John Bolton scheduled to appear in BIZARRE ADVENTURES 26.
Bolton’s teaser art looked to be part John Buscema and part Frank Frazetta, and I was hungry to devour it.
Although I'd never seen or heard of John Bolton prior to 1981, this artwork was gorgeous; I was hooked the
moment I saw it. And I am typically not a fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre; but the preview of his work in
BIZARRE ADVENTURES 25 convinced me that securing a copy of this mag was a life-or-death matter. The
inside back cover of issue 25 promised that issue 26 would be “on sale April 21st,” though even then I knew
that the publication date was subject to change. I also knew that the tobacconist shop generally ordered only
two copies of each Marvel magazine being produced at that time. Unlike today, there was no Internet whereby
one could simply log onto the Diamond web site (or countless other sites containing similar info) to learn when
a particular comic book or magazine was going to be on sale. BIZARRE ADVENTURES was a bi-monthly, so
while I marked April 21 on my STAR WARS wall calendar, I knew the mag might easily go on sale before or
after that date. I considered speaking with the manager of the tobacco shop and requesting that he reserve a
copy of the mag for me, but I was afraid to put a monumental task such as this in the hands of a mere shop-
Thus, I accompanied my parents on every trip to the Norwin Plaza during a six-week period in anticipation of
issue 26. But to my disappointment, Kull was not to be found.
Finally, on April 20, we took a quick trip to the A&P supermarket (located in the same plaza as the tobacconist’
s shop). The A&P also sold comics—tons and tons of comics stuffed into a squeaky spinner rack. I foolishly
went there first and purchased several consecutive issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA. Why was this a foolish
endeavor? Let me explain. As I walked toward the shop, the smell of vanilla tobacco hung softly in the air. The
tobacconist’s always held a pleasant aroma that sent my senses reeling. I stepped into the shop, feeling a bit
giddy, and began perusing the comic book rack. Nothing I hadn’t just seen at the A&P—less, in fact. Still, I
considered adding the new issue of INCREDIBLE HULK to my afternoon of purchases. While counting my
change I dropped a dime. I kneeled down to retrieve the coin, and in doing so, had a head on collision with
Kull the Barbarian.
Yup. It was there. On the bottom shelf with HEAVY METAL, 1984, and a few other magazines. I grabbed hold
of the magazine (one of two copies in stock) and stared at the astounding cover painting—a grim, orange and
gray battle scene featuring an axe-wielding Kull on horseback in deadly combat against an army of the
damned. It was 100 percent John Bolton and it was remarkable. Unfortunately, having indulged in a four-issue
run of CAPTAIN AMERICA comics at the A&P, I no longer had enough cash to purchase it. My mind raced:
What to do? What to do?
What I did was…well...nothing, actually.
My mom refused to front me any cash--hey, I was 16 and working a part-time job--so I guess she was trying to
infuse a bit of that bitter life lesson “with great power comes great responsibility,” or, more to the point, “with
foolhardy spending comes no BIZARRE ADVENTURES for Davey.” I knew that it was hopeless to argue the
point and sat against the wall outside the A&P filled with a sense of self-inflicted ruination, while mom and dad
spent precious cash on worthless groceries.
That evening—a bowl of worthless pretzels, chips, and cheese curls by my side—I munched and read my new
comics while mom and dad watched THREE’S COMPANY. Despite my affection for the red, white, and blue
avenger, the newly acquired Captain America comics were little compensation for my ever-increasing desire
to obtain what I knew was certain to be a Moench/Bolton masterpiece. Although I'd gone through my change
drawer and found I had just enough money to make the purchase, our next trip out wouldn’t be for several
days and I was convinced the two meager copies would be long gone by then. I thought, If I could only drive
there myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Although I had obtained my learner's
permit, I couldn't abscond with my father's car under penalty of death. Even if I had wanted to, dad drove the
land equivalent of an aircraft carrier—the Ford LTD II. A leviathan of a car, I'd sat behind its beastly wheel
once or twice and felt about as comfortable as an alcoholic at his first intervention. On the road the LTD II
rolled across the highway like a grade-school bully, beating up the other cars for gas money and sticking
chewing gum on their seats, and I simply wasn't man enough to tame such a beast; it wasn’t going to happen
in this lifetime. I realized, with dread certainty, that the magazine was probably going to elude me. As I
resigned myself to this fact, the GE soft-white light bulb suddenly went off in my head with explosive radiance.
The light bulb glowed atop me like a beam from heaven itself, blasting my senses with not 60, not 75, but
1,000,000 watts of inspiration. The answer was as simple as remedial math. Granted, I was FAILING remedial
math, and granted, it was an Evel Knievel long shot. There was no guarantee I’d be able to pull it off. But what
choice did I have? If you collect or are passionate about collecting, you'll understand that I had no choice
I don't know how I got the nerve to do it, more than likely I was just insane with want. Maybe it was because I
knew the worst he could do was laugh in my face and say no. Maybe it was the glucose rush from all the
Sugar Pops I’d eaten for breakfast. Somehow I got up the nerve. Thus, as my driver’s ed classmates and I
walked toward the sky blue Dodge Aries that following morning, I stopped Mr. Clark and rather nervously
asked, “Do you think I could maybe drive to the Norwin Plaza maybe? There's this magazine I wanted to buy,
and, um, it would really mean a lot to me if we could go there. It won't take long, really. I mean, it's only about
10 miles each—”
It was completely outside the protocol of the class. Not only would we be leaving the designated roadway, we’d
be leaving the township as well. Mr. Clark looked at me rather blankly. Perhaps he hadn’t actually been
listening. Maybe he sensed the urgency within my voice as I blathered on and on. Maybe he’d ingested a
hefty dose of Sugar Pops for breakfast and was rebounding from his own sugar rush. Quite possibly, he just
wanted me to shut up. I’ll never know for certain why, but he pressed the car keys into my hand and simply
Before we even reached the plaza I knew it was going to be a difficult endeavor to make it back to the high
school on time. Traffic was heavy and I’d caught every red light on the way. The periods were only 45 minutes
and it had taken 25 just to reach the shop. It wouldn’t be easy, but with any luck I’d be in and out of the
tobacconist’s inside of two minutes and back on the open road.
“Be quick about it,” Mr. Clark said, sternly, as I undid the safety belt and opened the driver’s side door.
“Will do,” I assured him.
I ran from the parking lot into the shop and darted toward the comics rack. Only one copy of the magazine
remained. I quickly snatched it up and jumped into the cashier line.
And that’s when everything went to Hell.
I knew that they were waiting inside the car. I can't imagine any of them, especially Mr. Clark, were waiting
patiently. But they were waiting nevertheless. I thought about abandoning it, just putting the mag back on its
shelf and giving up the fight. But it had been a gamble asking for this favor, and Mr. Clark, for whatever
reason, had granted it. I couldn’t simply walk away without the prize.
I tried to do my part. I tried to hurry, honest to God I did. But the fat man in oil-stained auto-mechanic attire
who smelled like beer and gasoline and towered in line in front of me was purchasing every possible “instant”
lottery ticket imaginable--and rubbing the coin to the ticket to see if he'd “instantly” won. The second hand of
the Seth Thomas clock that hung upon the shop’s wall chipped away the moments of time like a sculptor
wreaking havoc upon one of his own marble creations. I said a silent prayer that, to my surprise, was
immediately answered as tubby uttered “son-uv-a-bitch” in disappointment beneath his tobacco-encrusted
breath. I laughed to myself—though not entirely to myself. He turned and regarded me as a giant might
regard an gnat. My face tensed. His upper lip tightened and an accusing eyebrow was raised; I quickly looked
away. Outside, they were still waiting, and this was taking too long. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the
grimy-slimy mechanic who, incidentally, would have to find another source other than the Pennsylvania lottery
by which to finance the drinking fest that seemingly was a part of his daily life, left in a rage. Five precious
minutes had ticked away, and with each passing minute I knew I’d sunk further into the quagmire. But there
could be no turning back. I quickly approached the counter to make my guilty purchase. The cashier placed it
into a paper bag and handed me 15 cents change and I tore out of the shop. I knew they'd been waiting. I ran
to the Dodge, across the parking lot against the cold chill of the February morning air. I raced to the driver's
seat of the car. But it was too late. Mr. Clark sat there, hanging his head out of the open window of the driver’s
side and smoking a filterless Lucky Strike.
“Get in,” he said, emotionless, and started the car.
The Oak Ridge Boys blared out ELVIRA, extrapolating on how she was going to getty-up about something or
other. I paid little notice to their hypnotic melody. A mix of nervousness and excitement washed across me.
Clark gunned the Dodge and we raced diagonally across the parking lot to the nearest exit. As an instructor,
the practice contradicted all that he stood for. The Dodge roared onto the highway (as much as a 1981
Dodge Aries could roar) before navigating the first exit that would take us back. I looked cautiously in Mr.
Clark’s direction. His hands gripped the wheel tightly and he lit a second cigarette. He stared ahead, a blank,
emotionless stare. But I knew. I knew. This was the first--and last--time he'd ever agree to anything like this.
Ida and Janine sat quietly in the back seat, no doubt thinking what an idiot I was. But I didn't care. I didn't need
their approval, acceptance, or hearts. My goal was nearly accomplished, and I'd attained what I'd thought
otherwise unattainable. We approached the intersection of Barnes-Lake and Sidemoor. The traffic light
shifted from green to yellow and Clark hit the accelerator. We blew through the light doing 75. What had I
done? Clark was a good man, as far as I knew, and a good driver—he had to be—and I’d brought him to
this…this unthinkable low. The dashboard clock approached 12:10 p.m. We were 10 minutes late and still
several miles away. I knew I was the most hated person in any Dodge Aires in the Irwin vicinity at that
particular moment. I thought of saying to them, "Don't blame me! It wasn't my fault!" But how could I do that?
True, it wasn't my fault, but how could I express my innocence with any degree of persuasiveness? It wasn't
my fault, dammit. It was Marvel's. It was always Marvel's fault. I felt like Ralphie Parker in A CHRISTMAS
STORY. It wasn’t my fault—it was Red Ryder’s.
Clark didn't talk to much to me after that. Not that he talked to me much at all to begin with, but the incident
(coupled, no doubt, with my various driving mishaps) had clearly changed him and altered his perception of
me. On the accelerated return drive, he'd asked me what it was that I “had to purchase.” He said it with the
tone of voice that clearly implied that nothing could have warranted such urgency for ownership. I tried to
explain that it was an illustrated magazine.
"Oh," he said, lighting one Lucky Strike with the end of another, and feeling he'd been made a chump, "a
"Sort of," I replied, and fell silent.
Had I been able to show him why it was so damned important that I get to that shop--had he been able to see
the beautiful panels of Bolton artwork bursting from the printed page in glorious black, white, and grey, deftly
accompanied by Moench’s haunting story, or had he himself been a collector of anything paper or otherwise--
perhaps then he'd have understood. Perhaps. Ida and Janine certainly didn't understand, nor did they speak
with me after that day. I can’t honestly say that it bothered me though. As far as I was concerned, I’d done the
impossible. I was Merlin, Harry Houdini, Henry Blackstone, and Doug Henning. I’d pulled it off. I’d overcome the
odds, and it had been well worth the alienation I would suffer for the remaining weeks of the class.
Overall, my high school years were about as much fun as a Renaissance Festival. I am quoted in the 1982
Yough Cougar yearbook as “…favor[ing] the school strike as [my] most memorable moment." The yearbook
staff didn’t quite capture what I had said when I was asked to describe what I remember most about my years
at Yough Senior High. Typical of my high school experience, I never really said what I wanted to say. Like
many kids I was shy, introverted, and never could get the words out. In hindsight, I know exactly what I should
have said to the yearbook reporter: “My most memorable moment? Well, there was this day in Clarks' driver's
ed class. Oh, have you ever heard of John Bolton?”
So what’s the big deal? What makes this mag better than any of the other Marvel mags of the era? Why does
it excel above other non-Marvel mags like HEAVY METAL, 1984, or EERIE that were on sale at the time?
Let’s take a closer look:
Title: Bizarre Adventures 26
Story: Kull: Demon in a Silvered Glass (44 pages)
Publication date: May 1981 (street date, April 21, 1981)
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: John Bolton
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Whether you are a fan of barbarians or sword and sorcery is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Moench and
Bolton’s story, published more than two decades ago, stands as a mini-epic—a 44-page tour de force that
contains all of the elements a good sequential story should possess: strong characterization, a riveting plot,
dramatic artwork, crisp lettering, an interesting cast, action, romance, and plenty of exciting plot twists. It’s all
I won’t spoil the story by summation; however, I’ll reveal this much: Kull falls prey to a mirror (that’s right, a
mirror) that nearly causes his undoing. As for rest of the story, you’ll have to read it on your own. Trust me,
you won’t regret it. Bolton’s photo-realistic renderings are equally matched by Moench’s understated
narrative—the writer doesn’t strive to overpower the artist and vice versa. It is, however, difficult to look at this
very visual story and not feel awed by Bolton’s art which is, for wont of a better word, stunning. He does more
with gray wash than most artists could accomplish if given a full palette of colors. It is for these reasons that to
dismiss KULL: DEMON IN A SILVERED GLASS as a mere “barbarian” story would be a disservice to the writer
and artist, as well as the genre in general. Not even my brush with death at the hands of Mr. Clark can taint it.
It was not, after all, “just another barbarian story,” and was entirely worth the cost of having ostracized myself
from my driver’s ed instructor and fellow female classmates; if I had it to do all over again, I’d do it without a
moment’s hesitation. Though perhaps this time I’d have the smarts to simply walk the 10 miles to the tobacco
I have one final thought, about he cliché “everything that’s old is sooner or later new again.” In the world of
comic books this is defiantly true as older material is reprinted in new formats (ala MARVEL MASTERWORKS,
DC ARCHIVE EDITIONS, etc.), and gives readers and fans a chance to experience something they’ve not
seen in a long time (if at all). If the Marvel powers that be should ever decide to produce a John Bolton
omnibus (which, of course, they should do immediately), I’ve no doubt this tale will rank among the highlights.
It certainly deserves to be discovered by new readers and rediscovered by us old friends.
July 27, 2001
B i z a r r e D r i v i n g A d v e n t u r e s
d a v i d y u r k o v i c h