The Quaker Oats Box Teeters Precipitously

A column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor

I have no idea if there is a story-teller gene that some writers are born with.

I do know I always loved having a story told to me; and I don't recall a time I didn't love telling a story.

I do recall the moment I realized the power that telling a story could have. I was only five, maybe six years old. So, I'm not sure it was something I could put into words, but I can still feel the emotion of seeing that effect on someone else. I never thought about audiences. At six, I didn't know about audiences.

Jumping Anthony was the audience for the first story that made me realize that a story could actually make people risk getting themselves in serious trouble, make them unable to leave the story when other demands were calling angrily to them.

Now, at this point in time Jumping Anthony was not known as Jumping Anthony, but he would carry that moniker within a couple of years, after the infamous incidents with Tarzan over a rock and sand cliff edge over a garbage dump strewn with jagged rocks.

I sometimes told this story on stage at conventions, years ago, under the umbrella title "Tarzan Kills Kids". In my experience, the fear that was instilled in parents by some of those society watch-dogs and the media, was that kids might jump out windows if they watched Superman fly. If any fictional character ever came close to me having serious bodily harm done, or even life threatening, that I experienced, it was Tarzan, not Superman, who inspired us kids to do really nutty things. It was easier to believe you could swing on vines than fly.

Someone apparently even taped my telling of those stories and transcribed them into a fanzine.

Since I had intended to use these humorously traumatic incidents within some of the Ragamuffins stories, I stopped telling those stories. And I hope I haven't lost them; the tone of them, and that the essence of what happened is still within my ability to tell.

But back to Anthony before he was Jumping Anthony. Anthony had toy cowboy towns and all the cowboy figures to go with them. Most of the time, Anthony did not play with the cowboys. He liked to watch me play with his cowboy figures and act out stories with the plastic heroes and villains.

I didn't have big cowboy towns you could buy. I used to take Kleenex cartons and cut them up, and make my own Sheriff's office and jail cells. I would glue two Kleenex boxes together, cuts holes in them somehow, build a staircase from lower to upper deck, a skill I probably could not do today, and make the lower section a bar room , and fashion hotel rooms out of the top deck.

Once, in my outdoors setting, I set fire to my cardboard town, with the plastic figures, good and bad guys within, to see who would survive…And who wouldn't. I'm real little here, so give me a break. It was nuts, I'm sure. I did place the good guys where they had a little edge to get out of the flames alive, but nothing could be taken for granted.

Well, until that day the fire escaped my little cardboard town, swept up on dead leaves, and caught the ground ablaze.

And suddenly the story had a adrenalin spurting reality that took on a life and frenzy of its own, and the outcome of the heroes and villains were forgotten, as the fire spread in the dead leaves!

But that, again, is another story. I'm just setting the mindset here for you.

One night, Anthony was at my house, and we were on the linoleum floor. I don't recall what the story was that I was telling, but there was danger to all the people in town.

Since I didn't have ready-made, store-bought props, I had made a gigantic boulder out of an old, large, circular Quaker Oats box. And this boulder was atop a mountain, the town below in its shadow. And here's what I really recall.

Don McGregor leaping

The Quaker Oats box was tottering on the top. It was obvious that it would soon topple down on the town. And there was stuff happening in the town, showdowns were approaching, good had to face evil, the outcome was uncertain. But what was certain was that the Quaker Oats Box of Death was going to crash down the slope and smash through the town. And it would be devastating! Who would survive? Who would die?

Who knew? I don't think I knew.

Anthony's mother called him to come to dinner. He knew he should. He knew it was in his best interests, I'm sure, to go on home. But every time he started to get up off the linoleum floor I'd shake that Quaker Oats box, and for sure, this was time it was going to carom down the hillside and wreak its havoc!

And he couldn't go! He just couldn't leave! He had to know.

And the Quaker Oats Box of Death didn't fall just then, it was only a false start, a threat, it was wobbling, but it wasn't going to happen yet.

And Anthony's mother would call to him again, each time, five minutes later, her voice angrier and angrier, a real threat, and still, because he knew, this time for sure, the Quaker Oats Box of Death was going to claim its toll, he just couldn't leave. He had to know how the story came out!

Anthony would have to face certain hell, before the plastic cowboys faced their own Hell.

I was six years old, and I told that story with those plastic cowboys and that Quaker Oats box with everything I had as a story teller.

And on some level, on that night, I knew the power that telling stories could have.

And sensed, on another level, the importance of telling stories.


Now, if only I could learn how to write a simple "Yes" for e-mails, like Jim, you'd probably see a lot more of these missives.

I don't know, maybe it's got something to do with telling stores, for me.

I don't know if Tony Isabella recalls this, but back in the days when we were working in the hallowed halls at Marvel, on staff, Tony told me he was writing his "Don McGregor" story.

I have no idea what story that was, or if Tony even remembers this. And the guy writing this can forget within 30 seconds that he put his cup of coffee in the Microwave to heat it up, but I do remember saying something to Tony like, "Well, when you know what a Don McGregor story is, would tell me, because this would make this intense story-telling thing a whole lot easier.

It has something with that next blank page.

Often, maybe, just about what that next damn blank panel will be. What will make it the most effective panel I can do at that point in time.

By the way, a couple months back I did a few daily pieces, just to make sure I didn't forget what happened when, on what happened with Marsha having to go into the hospital.

If any of you should want to see those pieces, write in, and I'll post them up here. Well, you know, if I can figure out how to do that.

Don

           I can't see a moment in Don's work where I see a significant transformation in Don's writing.

When I look at his letters e.g Captain America#122 and even that first Detectives Inc. cover from 1969 and the Warren stories and the first "Killraven" and "Black Panther' stories all the elements that I like in a Don McGregor story seem there already.

I'm not saying he was born with a gene with these elements already inscribed. He must've learnt how to do them; but in the writing that I've seen I can't see that moment or moments.

Am I making sense?

Ali


Don McGregor is the writer of Killraven, Black Panther, Nathaniel Dusk and a slew of other classic comic books. Order a copy of The Variable Syndrome and other comics from his website or his outstanding Detectives, Inc. at Amazon.

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