The Podium

Strange Arcs

I blame Connor Freff Cochran (aka "Freff").

There I was, having reached adulthood and left comic books in the past, quite happy with my life as an illustrator, oblivious to the fact that while I'd been growing up and leaving Batman and Daredevil behind, comics were also in the process of growing up, and becoming, if not an actual honest-to-Picasso Art Form, at least a medium in which creators were crafting graphic stories for adults.

Then I came to live at the Frog Palace...

The infamous Frog Palace was a house on 23rd Avenue (there's that damned "23" again..) in Brooklyn. If not quite a mansion, it aspired to mansionhood. It had been built back in the twenties by Marcus Loew,the original founder of what eventually became the Loew's theater chain, and his creation was an odd monstrosity of a brick house complete with art nouveau stained glass windows in the stairwells and bathroom, carved balustrades and parquet floors.

And the frogs, of course.

The frogs were cast cement sculptures, which sat on large shoulder height brick pedestals flanking the wide front steps. They each had the end of a small copper tube poking out from between their lips, as though frozen in the instant before shooting out a long copper tounge, presumably to catch some cast cement fly.

The Frogs had apparently once been part of a fountain that stood in the yard to the north side of the house. The lore of the place had it that neighborhood kids had started stealing the frogs, so Loew removed the fountain, and permenantly affixed the last two remaining frogs to the pillars at the front of the house, though it was never quite clear whether this was out of some sentimental attachment to the cement amphibians, or as the theater magnate's way of thumbing his nose at the young frog thieves.

If nothing else, they served to provide the place with a name.

The Frog Palace wasn't really a commune, more of a collective, various artists, writers, musicians and other creative types moved in and out and through it over the late seventies and mid eighties, some staying for years, others for months or days, before going on to fame and fortune in other milieus.

The longest resident (probably the first, and certainly the next to last, I think he may even have been the official leaseholder on the place), was Connor, who in those days was known only as "Freff".

I knew Conner slightly as a musician and an author and illustrator of science fiction stories. One day he asked if I would model for his comic book.

Model for a comic book? I was no weightlifter, so I knew he didn't want me to play a superhero. I had a brief vision of myself in a Donald Duck suit.

"You'd be perfect for Duke D'Arveaux." he said enthusiastically. "you'd look very natural with a sword in your hand."

Ah, well, this was more like it.

I'm a fencer. You can imagine what a remark like that did for my ego.

But a comic book?

How was I to know that Wendy Pini's "ElfQuest" had opened the door for a plethora of self-published and small publisher comics to gain a foothold in the comics market? Or that many of these books were intelligently written for adults? Or that the comics market was booming, and that comic book creators (most notably Frank Miller and Art Speigelman) would soon be profiled in the mainstream media?

Naturally, Connor would enlighten me. And introduce me to this strange new world, as well as to his collaborator, Phil Foglio.

Phil and Connor were at work on a comics magnum opus they called "D'Arc Tangent". It was a sprawling space opera epic, a tragic romance, the story of a lovelorn, swashbuckling 17th century french duke (modelled by my humble self), trapped in the body of a robot from the other end of the galaxy (modelled mostly by Phil's imagination).

By the time the two of them finished narrating the story to me (they were just going to outline it, but got carried away, relating the whole saga in detail, complete with graphic enactments and sound effects), I was sold. Sign me up for a subscription, boys. And I was ready to do something like it myself.

Scratch that last. I wanted to do something like it. I wouldn't be ready to do so for a good long while yet. I was a fairly capable illustrator even then, but it would be some time before I really started to understand graphic storytelling. (Now, some 18 years later, I'm still learning, but I hope I've learned enough to do a capable job at it.)

Meanwhile, I joined the crew at the Frog Palace for a while, and began building my freelance career, encouraged and enriched by the creative atmosphere there.

Unfortunately, "D'Arc Tangent" folded after a single issue. The partnership split up over "Creative Differences". I know I'm not the only one who cursed them roundly for that, having got caught up in the magic of their tale.

But in spite of it's untimely demise, it was a noble effort, and it served to help open my eyes to some of the wider possibilities of the comics medium. So, to some extent, in homage to "D'Arc Tangent", the story that might have been called "Arch-Mage" became "ArcMage", putting a more contemporary spin on an archaic title. (Confess, you were wondering where that stray "h" got to, and why...)

I could have been quite happy living life as an illustrator, painting covers for paperbacks and pictures for magazines, but I caught the comics bug. And it never would have happened had Connor (nee Freff) Cochran not said "How'd you like to model for a comic book?".

So you see, I blame Connor.

I might as well note, by the way, that the first line of this essay is a sort of a joke. Back when I was first experiencing the Internet, I did, as most of us have probably done at some point, a search on my own name. One of the first references to come up was one that said: "I blame Duncan Eagleson." Naturally, I had to look it up. Turned out to be an article by Freff (or Connor, as he had become by then) on Keyboard magazine's website, a reminiscence about our days in the Frog Palace and the dreaded Blue Lightbulb.

No, I'm not gonna explain that further, hit Keyboard's pages if you really wanna know (I checked there before posting this, and discovered you now have to find the archives on Connor's "Creative Options" column).

One of these days, I expect Connor will get around to running a search on his own name just for the hell of it, and one of the references will come up with the line;

"I blame Connor Freff Cochran."

Hey, it's not a blue lightbulb, but it'll do for the moment.

Til next time,


UPDATE Nov 99: Keyboard has redesigned their site since I first posted this article, and now Connor's column on the story of the Dreaded Blue Lightbulb seems to be missing from the archive. Check it out anyway, the other columns are definitely worth a read.

UPDATE 2, April,'00: Recently recieved an email from Connor (titled "From the blue"), confirming that the gag had, indeed, worked like a charm. He also provide a few more details and corrected a couple of factual inaccuracies (I had forgotten the house was built by Loew, and originally described him as "some industrialist in the thirties"). Thanks, Connor.

FEB '01: Connor has his own website now, and promises "Attack of the Dreaded Blue Lightbulb" will soon be available there. Meanwhile, check it out anyway, he's one of the best essayists around: Creative Options

Previous Podiums:
Un-Masking  Spring 99

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