KC Talks Comics in 1981

KC Carlson in 1981

Memories by KC Carlson

Well, this is odd…

What we have here is an interview that I did for a local Eau Clare, Wisconsin, television show called “Thirteen Interview” sometime around 1981. The interviewer is Geoff Welch, a old classmate of mine at the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire, which I attended (and occasionally actually went to class) in the late 1970s. I could usually be found working for the UWEC Davies University Center as a film projectionist or stagehand or jack-of-all-trades. If you were there at the time, you might remember my role in accidentally destroying a baby grand piano.

Here’s some background on what you’re about to see…

It was through the University Center that I ended up teaching a mini-course about the history of comic books. It was unique in that it was also open to community members and, in fact, most of the dozen or so “students” came from that group. After the 10 or 12 weeks of the course, since we all enjoyed each other’s company, we continued meeting (at each other’s houses) after the mini-course officially ended. One of the members, Barb Mullenberg, had access to a printing press and suggested that we all produce a comics fanzine, so we did. It was called Comics Chronicles. I think it ran for about 6 or 7 issues until it ran out of gas (or maybe because I got a job in Madison and left Eau Claire at that time).

Due to tape damage or degradation, the entire 30-minute interview is not here. (It starts in progress.) But almost 20 minutes have survived.

Throughout the interview, you’ll hear several references to something called “Truckers Union”. It was Eau Claire’s “counterculture general store” (i.e., head shop, leather shop, and record store) at the time. (And still going strong today!) At some point around 1975, I walked into the store, saw that it carried a lot of counterculture magazines and underground comics, and frustrated that I had not been able to find a good, consistent source of “regular” (you know, classic superheroes and funny animal) comic books, I approached the clerk (who I would quickly come to know as Herman Shilts) to ask him why the store didn’t carry those. His first reaction was akin to something like “they still make those?” (which was pretty typical of the era), but after we talked, he was intrigued enough to tell me that he’d look into it.

Less than a week later, Herman was visiting relatives and found an old box of “those” comics (mostly old Superman comics) in a barn. He threw them in the car and took them back to look at them later — and got that magic feeling of falling in love with comic books. I later found out that he was very excited to talk to me again about these comics, but since we didn’t actually exchange contact info, he had to wait until I wandered back into the store a couple of weeks later. And he wanted me to tell him everything I knew about comic books. Which at that point in time wasn’t much beyond articles in the Overstreet Price Guide, All in Color for a Dime, and the Jules Feiffer and Les Daniels books about comics. I hadn’t yet discovered much about comic book fanzines.

Herman had checked with his magazine distributor at the time (either Big Rapids or WIND, I’m fuzzy on that particular), found out that he could get traditional comics through them, and soon he was working with a couple of guys named Milton Griepp and John Davis. Apparently, a lot of other folks were also contacting Milton and John about getting comic books around this time, because within a few years, they broke away from traditional magazine distribution and formed Capital City Distribution in Madison, WI, and Truckers Union was one of their first accounts. CCD quickly became one of the leading comic book specialty distributors.

On occasion, Milton would invite us down to help them unload semis of back issues into the warehouse, which led to Milton offering me a job at CCD (the point where I departed Eau Claire, as noted above), starting me on a career path in comic books that included Westfield Comics (where I’m still freelancing today), Krause (launching the Comics Retailer trade magazine), and DC Comics, where I edited various comic books including Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman, and various early trade paperback collections for most of the 1990s.

So, here’s the thing about this interview… I don’t remember doing it. I DO remember gathering up all the stuff that’s displayed around the set from my own collection (including that original page of Cerebus art). But not the interview itself. Weird how the mind works. Or my mind, anyway…

This video is also unique since it’s apparently the only graphic evidence of me with a mustache and no beard. Yes, that’s a John Lennon t-shirt. He had recently been killed in NYC, and I was still upset. (Still am.) And I don’t wear jeans anymore, but I still wear Converse All-Stars in wild colors with crazy laces. I also now wear glasses — too much reading comic books as a kid under the blanket with a flashlight, I guess.

Special thanks to my favorite ex-boss Laurie Gapko for archiving the original tape for over 30 years. (And it was another adventure in itself to find somebody today who could convert UMATIC format to modern-day DVD.) I’m now wondering if this tape was originally played in the Davies University Center lounges after it first aired on WEAU 13.

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