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More Mogollon Memories: Jack Kirby’s Monsters and the Mogollon Monster Live on the Rim

Monday, April 25th, 2016 | Posted by Nick Ozment

kirby monsterMy Grandad claimed he saw the Mogollon Monster once, when he drove up the Rim to visit the land they’d bought to build the cabin. He had pulled to the side of the road, let his dog out to run, and the dog got wind of something that upset him.

I don’t know more of the story than that — Grandad’s no longer around to fill the gaps and, anyway, maybe he’d embellish just to get a rise out of us.

When we were young, he and Nan drove us up to visit the land, and my Grandad was a very quiet man while Nan chattered away keeping us entertained.

But at one point, when we’d gotten way up as near the sky as you can get in Arizona, where the snowdrifts were two feet deep, Grandad pulled to the side of the road, without a word, got out, came around back of the truck, opened the tailgate, grabbed each of us, methodically, and tossed us into the snow.

We laughed fit to burst, then Nan dusted the snow off our pants, loaded us back up, and we were on our way.

Trifles ‘n Treasures

galaxy laser teamMy Nan would take us shopping, and we begged her to take us because she’d buy something for each of us — often a couple or three things if you just couldn’t make up your mind between the bag of Galaxy Laser Team w/ Space Monsters plastic figures or the giant lollipop. I don’t know if she ever actually did any shopping for herself — she was there to splurge on the 8 to 10 grandchildren (and sometimes a friend or two we’d brought along).

One place she liked to go was a junk shop just outside of Heber called Trifles ‘n Treasures (I adore that name — if I ever open a junk shop I’m gonna steal it). The place looked like the yard of Sanford and Son. Inside, the rows of shelves filled with old appliances, car parts, and tools held little interest for me, but one time the guy reached down behind the counter and pulled out a box of old comic books. Now, that was back in the late ‘70s, so old comic books back then meant Silver Age — and of course if we’d known then what we know now, we’d have bought the whole damn box.

Anyway, I got to pick out a couple, and therein I discovered Jack Kirby’s monsters. One that especially made an impression on me was an orange hulk-like brute rampaging through the jungle battling giant pythons and the like. And right there, I was nudged a little further onto the trajectory that my life would take.

Interesting thing about a dusty box of Bronze and Silver Age comics full of monsters and space-men and superheroes: it has lodged itself in my mind as a metaphor for the Holy Grail of happiness, the Wellspring of bliss, the Key to contentment. I mean truly. My subconscious has chosen that object — a dusty box of comics — to represent recovery of a type of innocent joy: every few years I have a dream in which I pull out a dresser drawer in a closet somewhere, and there is a pile of those comics I had when I was a kid and that I thought long gone. In my own corner of Dreamland, that moment is like striking the lottery or opening your door to find the girl you had the biggest crush on waiting there to greet you in a bikini (she — not you — wearing the bikini). I mean, it’s transcendent.

Yep. Sometimes trifles can be treasures.

The Heber Country Store

Walking out onto the front porch of the Heber Country Store with your Nan and your cousins, clutching a rubber jiggler monster from the 25-cent vending machine in one hand and a beefy jerky stick in the other…Turns out few subsequent moments in life are better than that. Men amass fortunes trying, in vain, to reclaim such a feeling.

Mogollon Monster

mogollon rimThe stray piece of animal hair we found snagged on a tree, Doug and I told the wide-eyed younger cousins, came from Bigfoot.

And that spot where pine needles were kicked up?

A big Bigfoot footprint, naturally.

And we claimed we’d heard him howling out there on the Rim in the dead of night, when we were all supposed to be asleep.

The dogs out in the kennels had been howling, and then we heard Grandad in the next room rise from bed, go to the window, and holler at them to hush up. And we hushed ourselves up, so we would not be hollered at. We tried to choke down giggles that came unbidden, to smother them into our pillowcases. To no avail.

Grandad poked his head into the room, in his gruff voice said, “You young men are supposed to be asleep.”

And then we did drift off to sleep, until the sun shone in through the curtains a summons to get up and devour Nan’s breakfast of sausage and eggs and biscuits and then rush out the door, into the pines, to go on a Bigfoot hunt.

There was the world, and everything, and so many days ahead of us. When you ran into the sunlight and that pine smell smacked you, you were immortal.

You didn’t even think of it, of the world coming to an end, or your time on it. Even that day would go on forever.

Was there ever a better time than that?

Maybe the Mogollon Monster is just a kid who decided never to leave.

Mogollon Baseball

We’d tramp from the cabin to a small field bounded by ponderosa pines, carrying bats and balls and gloves, me reluctantly.

Me, uncoordinated, this game an exercise in frustration. Oh, I wanted to hit that ball, smack it, send it rocketing out over the pines. I’d step to the plate, my awkward stance, and lucky if I clipped a foul ball into the tree behind me.

My cousin Doug, he got most of the athletic genes. I felt envy, but mostly just wanted to go back and page through comics or play some D & D. Lainie, my sister, played softball in high school. Missy — cousin not by blood but because we all grew up together — she landed a scholarship and went on to coach championship college teams. Jason, who became a bodybuilder, he could really take a crack at whatever you pitched him.

No, I did not look competent next to these kids. I wanted to. But somehow, defiantly, the ball refused to be in the same spot at the same time as my bat.

The stitched-leather ball felt good in the palm of my hand. The heft of the wooden bat felt good in the palms of my hands. But, dammit, I could never bend them to my will.

And so the game would wind down, to my relief, and we’d move on to another adventure, pretending to be cowboys and Indians or army men, which I was very good at — because with an invisible gun you always hit your target — or trekking down to the Circle K for comics and candy. I was back in my world.

But now here I am, an aging man, and oh how I wish to be back there in that field carpeted with pine needles, standing next to that slat of splintered plywood, home plate, to have another crack at that white line blur, my cousins around me, field humming with their vitality, their youth and energy and unsapped life, the easy weight of the bat, the springy hardness of the ball, and the smell of the pine,

the smell of the pine…

16 Comments »

  1. I loved reading this post. Arizona has some of the most diverse terrain in all the 50 states that I’ve been to. You can be in desert, forest, in the space of a few miles as well as in terrific heat or freezing, snowy cold during whatever time of year. I has no idea there was a Mogollon Monster.

    Comment by Wild Ape - April 25, 2016 5:49 pm

  2. Wonderful piece, Nick…

    As I age, I’m increasingly of the opinion that very few people actually experience a “normal” childhood… I know mine sure wasn’t.

    But forty-some years ago, my mother, bless her soul, ponied up a ludicrous amount of $ for a Gordon & Smith Fiberflex longboard, with killer-wide Bahne trucks and fat Cadillac sealed bearing wheels. And with that deck, even at ten, I could transcend the ghetto I grew up in, and at 30+ mph, make my escape to a corner store, or better yet, miles into center city, Philadelphia, to an awesome comic shop. A couple of years later, to a gaming shop :-)

    One of the (many) miracles of the human mind, is that despite their differences, your memories, well told, stir mine.

    Thanks Again,
    Anthony

    Comment by AWAbooks - April 25, 2016 5:53 pm

  3. Wild Ape,

    The Rim is an amazing place, where the continent makes a sudden, precipitous plunge from Colorado highs to the desert valley floor — a couple hours drive and you’re in another world.

    Yep, the Mogollon Monster is the region’s own version of Bigfoot!

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 25, 2016 10:38 pm

  4. Galaxy Laser Team with Monsters! Now there’s a toy that I had almost forgotten about…

    Comment by Theodric the Obscure - April 25, 2016 10:39 pm

  5. Anthony,

    Thanks for sharing your own memory, and for the kind words.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 25, 2016 10:39 pm

  6. Theodric the Obscure,

    Yeah, talk about obscure! It took me years to hunt some down, because I had no clue what they were called. Turns out they were put out by Tim-Mee Toys in 1978 to cash in on the Star Wars craze!

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 25, 2016 10:41 pm

  7. I really enjoyed both of these Mogollon Rim posts, Nick.

    I especially relate to that comic book box of treasures because I had something similar happen.

    When I was very young Gold Key had a line of Star Trek comics. They weren’t very true to the characters or the show, for the most part, but I was a kid who loved Trek, and they were Star Trek, and so I wanted to read them. Anyway, one day when I was 7 or 8 I walked into a department store with my mom to discover a rack of 4-6 volumes of these Star Trek comic books — not just comic books, but COLLECTIONS of 8 issues. The first “graphic novels” I ever saw.

    I begged Mom to buy them for me, but while we weren’t exactly poor, we weren’t exactly rolling in extra cash, so she got me one of them. When we finally returned to that store (it was on the far north side of town) weeks later, the awesome display was gone — the other 3, or 5, collections had vanished into the ether.

    For years I thought about those unplundered riches. I’d lie in bed day dreaming about them and sometimes they’d actually turn up IN my dreams.

    And then, at DragonCon seven years ago, I wandered into the dealer’s area and lo and behold someone had reprinted every single one of those Gold Key Star Trek collections. They had the same covers and everything. Not only that, they were showcased in a stand-up display that looked nearly identical to that one from my childhood. There they ALL were, even ones I’d never seen before (I found out later that another company had reprinted the entire Gold Key run).

    It was like a moment from a dream made better, because there were even MORE.

    I stopped, stared, smiled sadly, and walked past.

    By then I’d realized I didn’t even really LIKE the Gold Key Star Trek’s very much, because the characters in them didn’t act very much like the characters I loved, the stories were simple, and the equipment didn’t even look right (turns out that the original artists hadn’t had anything to work from but publicity shots, but later issues do look more like the show).

    As I walked away I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d somehow been able to purchase them and pass them through a window in time to my younger self, I’d have made me very happy. Older me just felt, well, old and a little sad. I guess I was re-learning the meaning of bittersweet, or getting to know that “you can’t go home again.”

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - April 26, 2016 8:32 am

  8. Great article. My childhood spent in a small WV town, that was on it’s deathbed since the lumber industry was edged out, was very similar.

    My two best buddies and I whould hit the Convenient Grocery store ever Tuesday afternoon, cause that’s when the comics came in. We’d read em and trade em back and forth with each other, just before got to play act like our favorite super-heroes.

    That’s what watching any of the good superhero movie does for me, takes me back to those days, and I can get be 5-11 year old kid again for a couple hours.

    Comment by kid_greg - April 26, 2016 12:24 pm

  9. Since this has turned out to be such a popular post, is anyone else as intrigued by the “KRAA–THE UNHUMAN” comic cover as me?!?

    * “Unhuman” is pretty dang interesting…what the heck is an UNhuman???

    * Kraa looks like a golem to me…what’s Kraa hiding in the stretchy shorts? 😉

    * Five fingers and three toes…did Kraa’s Creator get bored when he/she got to the feet?

    * I think the SNAKE deserves more credit…the snake’s got Kraa’s three-toed feet scrambling on the edge of a cliff, while Kraa has a random “native” in one hand. That’s got a “Snake two-fer” written all over it. Said snake also has some seemingly random 1970’s, Indiana Jones-esque anglo in a wicked waist grip, fighting to stay back from aforementioned cliff. As Charlie Sheen used to say, Snake is “Winning!” ;-D

    * A “primitive village” appears to lay in Kraa’s glide path at the bottom of the cliff…is Kraa there to rid said village of said Snake?

    * The violet-colored cliff grass is visually interesting, but wow, with so much excitement in one cover, could it be over-kill??

    Definitely a winning cover. “Monsters” were not my genre back in the day, but if I had seen Kraa the Unhuman on the stands, I may have made an exception for that one :-)

    Comment by AWAbooks - April 26, 2016 2:48 pm

  10. A really wonderful glimpse into your childhood, and the magic of all the early years. Excellent post! I’d love to read more of these.Z6a7

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - April 26, 2016 7:53 pm

  11. Beautifully written. These Mogollon posts are treasures.

    Now I want to see the Mogollon Monster and the Jersey Devil in a road-trip buddy-movie sort of story.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - April 26, 2016 10:46 pm

  12. Howard Andrew Jones, Sarah Avery, and R.K. Robinson,

    Thank you for taking the time to leave those nice comments!

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 27, 2016 2:41 pm

  13. kid_greg,

    “That’s what watching any of the good superhero movies does for me, takes me back to those days, and I can get to be a 5-11 year old kid again for a couple hours.”

    –I whole-heartedly agree. With the recent Marvel flicks (really beginning with Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Mans but skipping the two Hulk misfires), when they’re really working they create this feeling: you’re sitting there gazing up at the big screen and you’re ten years old again seeing your comic books actually come to life before you.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 27, 2016 2:47 pm

  14. Anthony,

    Thanks for the meta-analysis of that cover!

    I no longer have a copy of the original, but a few years back I picked up a Marvel Treasury edition collecting many of the classic Stan Lee / Kirby / Ditko monster collaborations (including KRAA–THE UNHUMAN). The artwork just makes me giddy; Lee’s melodramatic narration is so over the top it’s priceless; but the story titles alone are worth the price of admission:

    “I Am THE BRUTE THAT WALKS!”

    “He Walks! He Kills! He’s GROOM — THE LIVING LIZARD!”

    “I AM GOOGAM — AND I AM POWER!”

    “THE THING THAT CRAWLS!”

    “I Created SPOOR — THE THING THAT COULD NOT DIE!”

    “The THING CALLED IT!” (Perhaps to be followed up by a sequel “The IT CALLED THING”?)

    “SSERPO, THE CREATURE WHO CRUSHED THE WORLD!”

    I could read these titles all day…

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 27, 2016 3:15 pm

  15. Those are awesome titles Nick :-)

    Holy cow, I have been out of touch with comicdom for a bit, but you reminded me of a 1970s or early ’80s one-off, where the Thing was pitted against the dreaded Silver Age monstrosity named “Fin Fang Foom.” I still remember ol’ Fin landing a particularly sweet shot on Ben Grimm, which was given an especially awesome “BRAKKA-BRAKKA-BOOM!” sound effect 😀

    …but apparently, that one-off must have been dang popular, because it seems old Fin Fang Foom has graced the pages of Merry Marvel more times than Godzilla has partied in Tokyo.

    *Sigh*… the days of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Steranko, Colon, Smith, Buscema, Byrne, et al were mighty good indeed.

    Thanks Nick!

    Comment by AWAbooks - April 27, 2016 5:48 pm

  16. Ah yes, Fin Fang Foom — like most of the Silver Age monsters, he was pulled over into Modern Marvel Age continuity, usually to battle the Fantastic Four. He and other monsters still pop up occasionally; they are still part of canon.

    Speaking of canon, and since you mentioned Godzilla: Marvel uber-scribe Brian Michael Bendis a few years back derived some giddy delight out of pointing out that Godzilla is still part of official Marvel canon. Marvel licensed the rights to Toho’s iconic character back in the ’70s, giving him his own series that ran a couple years. Rather than portraying him in his own reality, though, they introduced him into the Marvel universe so he could battle Thor, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four (who never seem to be far behind when a gargantuan shows up — they have logged lots of miles battling behemoths).

    I assume Marvel gave up their license to Godzilla sometime prior to their era of money troubles (and eventual bankruptcy, which eventually led to being sold to Disney). At one time they also held the exclusive license to such big franchise characters as Conan, G.I. Joe, and the Transformers (not to mention Star Wars, which they have now gotten back thanks to their parent company now also owning Lucasfilm). But as Bendis pointed out, all of those other licensed characters were kept walled off in their own separate realities (Marvel did cross-over G.I. Joe and the Transformers with each other). Not so Godzilla.

    Due to licensing, he cannot appear in a Marvel comic — but he’s still stomping around out there, just off the page, somewhere in the Marvel Universe.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - April 29, 2016 6:42 pm


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