I don’t know what made me write “11/4/68” on the cover of Captain Zap #1 when I finished it. All I know for sure is that it was 50 years ago today.
Captain Zap was my first experience in public acceptance of something I created. It was a ridiculous superhero comic book written and drawn in pencil, four pieces of typewriter paper folded in half to make a 12-page comic book with a cover.
When I say “ridiculous,” I mean it was intentionally silly. It was filled with moments like the assassination of Mayor Snort, who, when told, “Someone’s taking pot shots at you, sir,” replies as he falls from a balcony, “Pot shot, my eye! I’m dead.” The sound effect is “POT SHOT.”
Captain Zap was once Ralph Smith, who is struck by lightning one day while rushing to work. Rather than killing him, the lightning endows him with a strange power – energy bolts (er, lightning bolts?) that emerge from his hand when he points at something.
Of course, like any ordinary person, pretty much the first thing he does is decide to become a superhero, but the very first thing he needs is a good name.
“It must be something that would strike fear in the hearts of bad guys!” he proclaims, discharging one of his bolts. As it turns out, a nearby kid is saying, “Hey Joe, have you read the latest issue of Captain –” and his next word is drowned out by the “ZAP!” from Ralph’s energy bolt. Voila.
“And thusly was born Capt. Zap,” the origin story concludes.
I passed around the single copy of Captain Zap #1 and it was met with bemused approval, and so I ended up distributing 23 issues the same way, 22 of which survive, plus Captain Zap Annual #1 (64 pages!), a horror comic called “Tales of Fright (Stories That Reek),” two issues of a spin-off villain-turned-hero called Mass the Mighty, covers for Captain Zap #s 24-27, and a partially finished Captain Zap Annual #2.
Only Captain Zap #11 is lost to the ages, having not been returned after being passed around. I even have Kapitän Zeppelin #9; a friend in my German class translated that epic battle of Captain Zap versus his archenemies Dr. Skull, the Red Demon, Mass the Mighty, Logicman, Vampireman, the Devil, and the Human Wrench (der Menschwrensch).
Dr. Skull was reborn as “The World’s Nicest Bad Guy” in my Myke Phoenix Novelettes, but otherwise Captain Zap was essentially forgotten until my brother found them in a box in my old closet a few years ago.
Actually, gone but not forgotten. I never lost the fun of entertaining my friends with my silly stories, and that motivated me to keep trying all these years as a “wordsmith and podcaster” while I made a living as a reporter and later editor. Maybe my friends were just humoring their eccentric lunatic friend, but we had fun together with Captain Zap, I think.
I pulled the pile of old pencil scribblings out recently because I wondered if I could adapt the concept for contemporary readers – Lord knows we all could use a little silliness – and that’s when I saw “11/4/68” scrawled there.
And so this morning I offer a toast to that high school sophomore who dared to be silly. That skinny, crazy kid still exists somewhere inside an overweight, somewhat addled older guy who counts among his prized possessions a plaque on his wall that says, “Be silly sometimes.” And he treasures the people who, 50 years ago, smiled at the “pot shot” joke and said, “This is kind of cool.”