About Russ

Foreword from EC Archives: Tales From The Crypt, Vol. 4

“… Nine–tenths of the American towns are so alike that it is the completest boredom to wander from one to another. … there is the same lumber yard, the same railroad station, the same Ford garage, the same creamery, the same box–like houses and two–story shops. … The shops show the same standardized, nationally advertised wares; the newspapers of sections three thousand miles apart have the same “syndicated features”; …

… He would go down apparently the same Main Street … in the same drug store he would see the same young man serving the same ice–cream soda to the same young woman with the same magazines and phonograph records under her arm. “ ~ Sinclair Lewis, Main Street, Chapter 2 (1919)

Now jump ahead a quarter of a century to 1944. All the Main Streets across America have not changed much. Boys ride their Schwinn or Western Flyer bicycles to their neighborhood movie houses, and all of them see the very same movies. They frequent the neighborhood drugstores on and around Main Street to pore over the large selection of comic books on display there. In those halcyon evenings, before television, they all listened to the same radio programs, read the same Sunday funnies, and caught lightning bugs in a jar. It is a happy thought for me to think about the thousands of men I know now but didn’t know then, all of us sharing the same experiences and cultural influences.

West Plains, Missouri, is a small, sleepy town similar to thousands of small towns all across the country. In 1937, when I was born there, the population was around 4,000, which in the past seventy-five years has increased to around 12,000. Nothing of great importance ever happened there, except in April 1928, when a dance hall explosion killed over thirty people. This event made national headlines, and the cause of the great explosion, which snuffed out the brightest and most popular young people in the town, was never discovered.

The Cottage Hospital was located in a house about two blocks from my home at 914 Cass Avenue when I made my appearance on July 3, 1937, the first child of Van and Dulcie Cochran. Van Cochran, my dad, worked at a filling station and later worked his way up to co-ownership of the local Ford agency. My mother, Dulcie, was born on a farm in Ozark County, Missouri, and moved to the “big city” of West Plains to attend high school.

Two events of 1941 are vivid in my memory; the birth of my younger brother Rick on July 24, and the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. Because of that, my  dad had to report for military service along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, and I remember my mother crying as he left for the physical.

Although I lived in a small town with a Main Street, I was also a country boy who went to the river every weekend with my family, there where my dad would fish and I would explore and play Tarzan. I was obsessed with Tarzan. He was my favorite fictional character by far. This came from seeing the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. I loved Tarzan, and I learned to throw a knife and stick it into a board almost every time. I started shooting with the longbow and when I would see white hunters with big game rifles I would want to smash them against a tree (the rifles, not the hunters.)

This was also the year I learned to read, from reading comic books. The only escapes from West Plains were the movie theaters and comic books, and I enjoyed a large diet of both of these. It cost ten cents to get into the movies and ten cents for a comic book, and I did chores to earn dimes and quarters by carrying firewood for the kitchen stove for my Grandmother Cochran. Every time I would fill her woodbox next to the cooking stove she would give me a few dimes or a couple of quarters, and I would beat it to the nearest drugstore to by comic books. I loved them all; the superhero comics, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Daredevil, Boy, and Crime Does Not Pay … There were no comics that didn’t interest me and lead me into the wonderful world of reading.

I was very aware that my own hometown West Plains took care of me. My home was four or five blocks from the center square, where all the movie houses and comic book racks were located. At a very early age I was permitted to roam this area freely, and there was never a thought that someone might harm me or kidnap me. I was sure that if some “bad guys” tried to haul me into their car and whisk me away, there would immediately be a throng of twonsfolk coming to my rescue. It would have been like “The Ransom of Red Chief”; it wouldn’t take long for the kidnappers to be ready to give me back.

By the time I was nine or ten years old I had accumulated hundreds of comic books, which I stashed and guarded fiercely from my brothers Rick and Mike (who was born in 1944). My comic books were everywhere, until my mother threatened to throw them all away if I didn’t pick them up and put them away in a safe place, which of course I did. Nobody was going to get my precious comic books. Today, in the age of television, it is hard for people to realize how important comic books were to kids of my generation. I divided my comic books into two groups; ones I wanted to keep because maybe I wanted to read them again, or I just liked them a lot, and ones that I read one time and then went into my trading stock.

Every kid in West Plains had comic books, and one way to get more of them was to trade, so periodically I would take my stack of tradable comics over to David Galloway’s or Charles Phelps”s house and we would each go through the other’s stack and pick out the ones we wanted to trade. We always traded one for one. If I picked out thirty comic books from David’s stack, he got to pick thirty from my stack. This ensured a constant flow of new (to me) comics to enjoy. My favorite thing to do on a rainy Saturday (besides go to the movies) was to hole up in my room with my comic books and a Dr. Pepper. I treasure those days.  (to be continued)