Thursday, April 24, 2014

Space Oddity

I wonder if this old image will spark any memories from members of the generation to which I belong, at least in body. It was, to the best of my recollection, my first exposure to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I still consider among the most convincing and engrossing space movies ever made. During my childhood, even on into young adulthood, my family traveled to Georgia from our home in Virginia several times a year to visit both sets of grandparents, and stopping at Howard Johnson's — they were ubiquitous in those days — somewhere on that long trip was tradition with my folks. I remember ever-so-well on that trip in late 1967 being handed this children's menu, which was essentially a comic book of the movie, shown from the perspective of a couple of insufferable young brats who go to the movie's premiere. The comic offered the most terrible distortion of the film's story, as such comics were ever wont to do, but the art was quite good, most of it clearly based on pre-production stills from the movie. Naturally, in the comic, nary a hint of 2001's surrealistic style or philosophical undertone was in evidence; it was all made out to be a charming space adventure that would thrill and excite insufferable young brats, including me, the whole world over. It was a silly, primitive, ridiculous marketing tool that was characteristic of marketing tools back in the 50s, 60s, on into the 70s. Back then, movie studios pulled out all the stops to draw in young seekers of cinematic thrills, and I certainly fell into that category.

I was eight years old when I saw 2001, and though its finer dramatic aspects were almost certainly lost on me, I remember having the hardest time believing that what I was seeing wasn't actually real. The movie systematically shattered every preconceived notion I had, virtually all of which had come directly from the Howard Johnson's comic. I immediately fell in love with the movie, and I think I saw it on the big screen a half a dozen times over the next couple of years (back then, movies were also re-released to theaters for second and sometimes third runs). Arthur C. Clarke's novel was one of the first, if not the first, adult novels I ever read. I was only in third grade at the time, but I don't remember having any difficulty comprehending the words, if not necessarily the context of the book. That Howard Johnson's menu comic, which, prior to seeing the movie, I had held in the highest esteem, became almost an object of contempt, and I suspect that at some point in my less-than-farsighted youth, I dumped my copy in the trash.

How I wish I still possessed that old thing now. But a few years ago, I did discover, much to my satisfaction, that the comic was reproduced in its entirety online. Oh, happy boy, me.

At least, a few years after that — 1977, I think — I did have the foresight to preserve my copies of that wretched Godzilla vs. Megalon comic that came out along with the film.

A few sample panels from Howard Johnson's 2001: A Space Odyssey children's menu follow.

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