Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The Secret Origin of Rudy Panucci

The PopCulteer
August 12, 2022

I’ve never specifically said how old I am in this blog.

It’s not like I’ve tried to hide it. I write about TV shows I watched and toys I had in the 1960s all the time. And I think I wrote about how my earliest memory is the mailman coming to the door crying, asking if he could come in and watch some of the coverage of Kennedy’s assassination, but I’ve never come right out and said how old I am.

Tomorrow I turn 60 years old.

How the hell did that happen?

I mean, I don’t feel 60. I haven’t checked lately, but I don’t think I look 60. I sure as hell don’t act 60.

But chronologically I have became a pop culture journalist who’s reached an age that pop culture tends to consider well past relevance.

It must be some kind of aberration. Or maybe this happens to everybody. Maybe nobody ever really feels old unless they’re sick or something.

“Hey check out this Talking GI Joe, it’s really cool! Why is that light so bright?”

I’m not tempted to do anything that “old people” normally do, at least not knowingly. I still collect toys, read comics, watch cartoons listen to music and subscribe to more streaming services than I can watch. I don’t sit around and watch Matlock. I don’t vote for Republicans. There are no goddamned kids in my yard to yell at.

I have to admit to being a bit puzzled by all this. It seems really weird to me to have vivid memories of breaking my collarbone while playing Batman fifty-six years ago. It’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I have favorite comic book artists who died of old age after I was a fan for more than fifty years. It’s really bizarre having friends who are full-grown adults who have parents that were born after I started buying LPs.

I’ve been thinking about what I was going to write in this space for almost three months. About a month ago my first wife died. We split up thirty-six years ago, and that is pretty much an entire lifetime. Kathy’s death put me in a very reflective mood as I relived our time together (a topic for a future column) and then relived the turns my life took afterward.

Many people can’t imagine me being with anybody besides my Melanie. It’s hard for me to do that too. She is my very reason for being and I would be miserable without her. We’ve been together more than half my life and it’s easy to feel like my life really began when we met.

But it didn’t, exactly. See, being a comic book fan for my entire life, I do have a story to tell for this post. I have a “secret origin.”

I’ve written about how, all my life I’ve been the person saying “Check this out, it’s really cool.” And a lot of folks know me as a strong advocate of local artists and musicians. Now I’m going to pull back the veil a bit and give you some insight about what motivates me to be this way.

Let me take you back to 1986. My disastrous first marriage was all over except for the signing of papers. I was an emotional wreck, but I put on a brave face and threw myself into my work.

My work at that time was as the de-facto publisher, editor, proofreader, gofer and head of publicity for CODA, a comic book written and drawn by my brother, Frank, with a back-up strip by me.

CODA was my main focus. I pretty much felt like a failure in life, and saw this comic book as my path to redemption. Foremost among my jobs was getting promotion for CODA. I managed to convince Jennifer Bundy to interview Frank for The Charleston Daily Mail. I bought ads in The Comics Buyers Guide and sent review copies to other fan publications.

And I hung out a lot at Greg Miller’s Comic World, on Charleston’s West Side. This was the comic book shop in Charleston and it gave me the chance to network with other area fans.

One day I walked into Comic World and recognized a low-level reporter for a local TV station berating Greg. He was promising extravagant TV coverage of Greg’s store, if only Greg would supply him with some free comics. He was especially keen on getting free Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to do a feature on the “black and white comics boom.”

I stayed out of the conversation and looked through the new comics until Greg just ended the conversation and said he had to get back to work, but he’d consider the idea.

The local TV reporter turned and started to walk out, and remember now, I was totally emotionally invested in making CODA a success, so I stopped him, held up a copy of CODA #1 and said, “Hey, you know…there’s a black and white comic book published out of South Charleston, and I bet your viewers would love to know about it!”

He turned, looked at me, scowled and said, “Nobody cares about that SHIT!” Then he walked out.

I was stunned, but was resigned to living the life of the rejected at that point. Greg was much angrier about it than I was and did his best to make me feel better. It just sort of stung that somebody in a position to help a local creator could be so unneccesarily cruel. I have to admit, it left a scar.

I drove home, and my Mom said that somebody called about the comic while I was out. I returned the call and it was a writer for Amazing Heroes Magazine. He’d seen CODA and was writing the semi-annual preview issue and wanted to know what we had coming up in future issues.

I was excited, but still down a bit, and he could tell. He asked what was going on, fearful that the book was not going to make it to its second issue, and I told him what had just happened.

He was stunned, but then he told me that he was trying to break into comics himself, and was used to particularly cruel rejections. And then he said, “You can either be the kind of person who builds people up, or you can be the kind of bastard who tears people down.”

So, with that pep talk, from Mark Waid by the way, I decided that I was never going to stomp on anybody’s dreams. I was going to be a person who supported artists, and musicians and encouraged people to create.

I was never going to be an asshole, like that TV reporter was to me.

Three years after that, I wound up on the radio, and I created Radio Free Charleston and have been supporting the local scene for over thirty years now. It’s why I still cover local stuff here in PopCult. It’s why I reach out to indie comic book creators and unsigned musicians from other cities.

Basically, living by the mantra “don’t be an asshole” has worked out pretty well for me. When I was put in a position to write a review of something that very TV reporter was involved with, I  gave him decent notices. The temptation was definitely there to get even after all these years, but I didn’t want to sink to his level.

A couple of weeks ago Brian Diller, who was one of the major forces in the Charleston music scene back when I started RFC, wrote a wonderful and thoughtful post about me and my contributions to the local music scene on Facebook. I have to admit it caught me off guard and it came at a time when I really needed a shot in the arm. It’s been a bit of a cruel summer with my Myasthenia Gravis flaring up, technical issues here at the blog, weird power outages, ex-wives passing away and a car that seems to want to have its address changed to my mechanic’s place.

It was nice to be reminded why I do what I do. That a couple of hundred people “liked” that post, and a few dozen commented or shared it really warmed my aging heart (which has checked out quite well, by the way).

It’s really nice to be appreciated.

Instead of a grand adventure for my birthday (or a party, I absolutely hate being the center of attention at parties), Mel and I are going to have a quiet day, hang out together, eat cake and ice cream and pizza and just relax and watch Matlock.

No, wait, NOT MATLOCK! WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT WATCHING MATLOCK!

That is this week’s PopCulteer. Thanks for reading and remember to check back for our regular features and fresh content every day, for the next sixty years or more.

 

3 Comments

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, and thank you for your friendship!

  2. Brian Diller

    Happiest of birthdays, Rudy. I hope you and Mel enjoy the day together. You are a good man and beloved by many. Happy birthday, my friend.

  3. Diana Panucci

    Happy birthday old man. 😉

    —Your much younger sister

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