Archive for the ‘The Magazines And I Book’ Category

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The Year Was 1953. The Magazines And I. Chapter Two. Part One

July 13, 2020

Chapter Two, Part One

The Year Was 1953…

Change Was the Only Constant

The year was 1953 and it was indeed a pivotal year in history. And while it was certainly a pivotal time for Mr. Magazine™, after all it was the year of his birth – as far as the world goes, the importance of 1953 had more to do with all of the changes that were taking place around the globe, rather than Mr. Magazine’s™ first breath.

In the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th president and in the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II assumed her crown on June 2 following the death of her father, King George VI the previous year, making her one of the youngest queens in history. In the Soviet Union, after over 30 years of ruling with an iron fist, Joseph Stalin died, initiating major changes for that country as well. The Korean War would end that year, and everyone from the East to the West, would witness constant change.

The Societal Mirror Image of Magazines & Their Impact

In the midst of all of these transitions, magazines were reflecting the times perfectly and succinctly. The emergence of a much more dominant type of magazine hit the market in 1953. Two titles that were very important and became a large part of the American magazine scene were TV Guide (April 1953) and Playboy (December 1953). The impact of those magazines was apparent: TV Guide reached a circulation of 18 million, and Playboy 7.4 million.

Niche Has Always Been the Name of The Game                 

However, while those two titles were game changers in the marketplace, taking a look at the many different categories and niche titles that were out there in 1953 is very important and essential, because contrary to popular belief, specialization in magazines started decades before most think it did. With the birth of cable TV in the 1980s, many think niche magazines didn’t actually become prevalent until that decade, due to the many options that cable gave audiences. To combat that choice power the customer suddenly had, publishers realized they could offer the same type of power for readers, so magazines of every genre and subject began to hit newsstands. But that had already happened at least three decades before, maybe even from their inception.

But looking at the magazines of 1953, and specifically from March of that year (the month that Mr. Magazine™ was born) you can see magazines ranging in content from the pure men’s adventure  magazines to the women’s service magazines, to the more specialized titles for gun enthusiasts, motorcyclists, or woodsmen. If there was a topic of interest that people had, there was a magazine on the market for it, even in 1953.

Categories Galore                            

On today’s newsstands, there seems to be a surplus of niche or special interest magazines. Everything from raising chickens in urban settings to the psychological wellbeing of your dog. But special interest titles are far from a new idea. In 1953, there were as many, if not more, special interest magazines in the marketplace as there are today, in the 21stcentury. Titles such as American Woodsman, Modern Airplane News, American Cinematographer, and the list goes on and on. The significant point about this is magazines have known no boundaries when it comes to topics of interest for decades, whatever the reader wants is what you’ll find staring back at you from newsstands, be that a niche genre of information or your more traditional categories of knowledge.

Speaking of traditional categories in 1953, there were women’s service magazines, men’s service magazines, political titles… categories that included science, music, entertainment, both movies and television, children’s magazines, sports magazines, pets, regional titles, every imaginable category that we have today was represented then, along with all of the special interest topics. In fact there were magazines from A (Action) to Z (Zane Grey’s Western) and every thing in between.

Yesterday’s content is as relevant now as it was then simply because it’s still being created today in its current form. The style and the actual information may be different, but the umbrella it sits under is exactly the same. Serving the audience, be it male or female; entertaining children, either through vintage cartoon characters or the latest video games; magazines that bring you the information and fun that you want, whether in yesteryear or the present, cannot be replicated. The words from 1953 are still attainable due to the forever technology of print, and that will be something that people generations from now will be very grateful for, because print will never go away as long as there are human beings around to create it.

Today’s magazine and magazine media industry would be served well if a priority for them consisted of learning from the past. How can you know where you’re going if you don’t understand where you’ve been? This is a question I have long posed.

The Power of a Magazine Introduction

Magazines continued to play that reflective role in society, mirroring all of the changes that were taking place. Whether it was by introducing special issues or covers for notables like President Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth II, or introducing celebrities and their families, such as the up and coming Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, nothing could or can compare to the effect magazines had and still have on our perception of the world. Magazines interpret, inform and entertain.

To be continued…

 

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The Magazines And I… Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Three…

July 2, 2020

My Family Roots

Yep, that’s me at two and a half years of age.

There were five children in my family, my older sister, my three brothers and I. My eldest brother, who was three years older than me, died in 1999 of multiple sclerosis. He was the pride of the family and carried my grandfather’s name – Khalil, like Kahlil Gibran, but spelled correctly. He was the first one in our entire family to have a Ph.D. – it was in English Literature and from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. My sister and my two younger brothers are still in Lebanon. I am the poor, misunderstood middle child and maybe that explains my tendencies to be different from what my family deems “normal.” My wife, Marie, is also the middle child. Possibly the reason we understand each other so very well.

My father was Presbyterian and my mother was Greek Orthodox. They moved from the village called Hakour 20 miles to the north of the big city of Tripoli so my dad could find work. My grandfather was the mouhtar of the village, and we had olive groves and an olive mill to make olive oil. When my parents married, my mom was 14 and my dad was 20. It took my mom five years until she had her first child. It was always looked upon as wrong if you didn’t have a child. My dad was the only son, and he had six sisters. My mom had no brothers. So I had no uncles – just aunts.

Dad found work at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which was owned by the British. He worked in shifts, and whenever there was a holiday they paid him double. When I was born in 1953, Tripoli was the second largest city in Lebanon. Tripoli comes from the word Tri-po-lis, which goes back to Greek or Roman days, and means the tri-city. The city flooded in 1955 when the river, Abu Ali, overflowed. For some reason, I can remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and walking in the mud. I was only two, but I recall that he was wearing rubber boots and the mud was high. We lived on the first floor, of the apartment building nd the entire floor was filled with mud.

Our family of seven lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Mom and Dad had a room and the rest of us shared a room. Being Presbyterian, we kids were sent to a Presbyterian school started by American missionaries. From the first day that you start school at age three, you learned to speak, read, and write Arabic and English at the American school or Arabic and French at the French school. If you were Presbyterian, you went to the American school.

We had two American schools: the boys’ school and the girls’ school, run by Presbyterian missionaries. It wasn’t until 1958 that the missionaries gave the schools to the Presbyterian Senate in Lebanon and Syria to be run by locals. The American boys’ school was a good walk away on a hilltop, and the girls’ school was closer to our house, so that’s where I went, the girl’s school, until the third grade.

They were actually called Tripoli Boys School (TBS) and Tripoli Girls School (TGS), but everybody referred to them as American Schools. Today they are combined and called Tripoli Evangelical School (TES). After third grade, the boys and girls went to separate schools. That was the environment that I grew up in.

Words of Wisdom

My grandfather Khalil.

My dad Afif.

From an early age, my dad used to give me what he thought the principles of life were that any employed man should live by: comb your hair, keep your clothes clean and shine your shoes. Simple as that. Before school, he’d shine our shoes. Or if he was busy, he’d get somebody to do it for him. He was so adamant about this, and neither he nor my mom even had a high school education. They did their best to study English on their own because most of his employers were British. Because of this, my parents recognized the importance of education early on, and invested in private schools.

Names carry heavy meaning with them in middle eastern culture. All children carry their father’s first name as their middle name. First born sons have the privilege of naming their own first born sons after their fathers. So after my brother was diagnosed with MS and before his death in 1999, he gave me his blessing and his privilege of naming any son that I might have after my dad, “Afif” (Afif is the French spelling that we Americanized to Afeef, the English spelling for easier pronunciation), because he would never have the opportunity to do so. Sometime after that, when my wife was pregnant with my son, I was on the phone with my father and he asked me when he was going to have his “Afeef.” Until that point, we had not truly considered calling our son Afeef. After that, we knew we had to honor my brother’s memory and my father’s wishes and give him a namesake. When my son, Afeef, was born, Dad said he could die in peace.

That’s why a name is so important – it’s a commitment, a culmination of all things past and present that make up a deeper meaning for all who hear it. Some people have asked me why I would call my son a difficult name like Afeef in America. People don’t understand the importance of that name. My dad’s name was Afif, which means pure, and my mom’s name is Afifi, which is exactly the same thing, just feminine. They were not related, just pure coincidence. In Arab culture, often times people can distinguish what religion you are based on your name. All of the names of the children in my family were genuine Arabic names, not named after any particular saint or prophet. My grandfather used to say all the time that people should know your religion by deeds, not by what you tell them, not by what they call you. Myth has it, or what I heard growing up, that if you are Presbyterian and you appear in court, you don’t have to swear on the Bible because Presbyterians don’t swear. Only one percent of Lebanon is Presbyterian.

The True Beginning

In the ninth grade, I started calling and harassing editors and complaining to them. That was about the time I started creating my own small magazines. Because at that age, we would visit my grandparent’s village in the summer where there were no magazines. I felt like I had magazine asthma without my ink on paper. I started making my own as an idea to kill time. I would borrow my grandfather’s transistor radio and all day I would sit down and create my own little daily. I’d use candles from my grandmother’s house, rubbing the candles on paper and then rubbing the paper back on old newspapers to get pictures. I’m not sure how I knew to do that, how I knew that images could be lifted in that way, but I did. And I was ecstatic.

That was when I discovered the concept of what I now believe in wholeheartedly. It’s what I preach, teach and consult about: the audience of one.

In those early publications of mine, I was the editor, designer, reporter, and the publisher. At the end of the day, I’d sit down and read my own creations. This whole concept of one theory was both an epiphany and also unbelievable to me. I made my magazines for me, to my specifications. Those may have been some of the first niche productions. At that point in time, without really realizing it, I had targeted an audience: myself.

The First Byline

But the breakthrough in my childhood magazine career happened when I had the opportunity to visit Beirut in 1969 and tour some actual magazine publications. I met the publisher of a magazine called Happy Homes, and I told him how much I loved the magazine. On the day I left Beirut, his wife called me and asked if I wanted to be the correspondent from the north for the magazine. I said absolutely.

My first assignments consisted of sending actual reports from our area of the country back to Beirut. It wasn’t long until I was doing “News from the North” with my byline. I would include items like “so and so died or so and so got married.” I actually still have a copy of that. My cousin sent me a copy because I wrote a piece about her when she was christened and included her picture. The combination of doing my own writing and starting to buy every issue I could get my hands on changed my approach to things in junior high and later in high school. At that time the number of titles flooding the marketplace continued to grow, names like Superman, Tarzan, Batman, and even an Egyptian magazine called Magic Carpet, with the title characters Mickey and Samir.

Even having a magazine with my name it continuously didn’t satisfy me. I wanted all magazines in general. During that time period, I was very involved with my church. It was not an option for us growing up. If it was Sunday, that meant Sunday school and church. I remember spending my Sunday allowance, which my dad gave me 50 cents, one quarter for Sunday school and one for a piece of cake from the pastry store next to the church. One time, on my way to church, I lost one of the quarters. It was a big debate. Did I lose the Sunday school quarter or the pastry quarter? I made up my mind. God can see everything. That was his quarter and he knew where it was. My parents didn’t seem to agree. I don’t think my parents ever really understood my magazine obsession. Their dream was for me to either go to seminary because I was so involved with the church and become a preacher, or become a dentist- both noble professions in their eyes.

Math Meets Magazines

In 2018 I went back to Tripoli to visit my high school which is now renovated and used as a public school. TBS merged with TGS to form Tripoli Evangelical
School for Boys and
Girls and is located outside the city limits of Tripoli.

Tripoli Boys School, better known as the American School. An archive picture from TBS Facebook page.

In Lebanon, once you reach the tenth grade, you declare an education concentration: science or literary. And if you are going to dental school, you have to go with science and take classes like physics, geometry and calculus. If you want to study languages, you do literary.

It was a struggle. I had to listen to my dad. I went with the scientific orientation. I’d be sitting in the geometry class, which I was never good at because I never had any patience to sit down and find the area of a triangle or a circle; I’d find myself sitting in class relating the triangles and circles to magazines. What would I create? My entire notebook had more magazine covers than any geometry problems.

I was an average student in high school, but that fascination was always with me. It led me to daydream a lot about this business. Triangles and circles became magazines. And of course, I discovered how this business worked. I learned about wholesalers, distribution, which day they would go on sale, etc. I worked my way from the newsstand sellers to the wholesalers. I tracked the line backwards from how the magazine came to the consumer.

It was at that time that I became acquainted with the wholesale distribution house in Tripoli, which was owned by a family called Jarrous. And because the man had told me to start coming at night so that I could see the magazines before anyone else, I became a fixture there. The distribution house was in an alley near the old center of Tripoli. I remember the first time before he offered me the see-before-anyone opportunity, I would stand sheepishly by the door because I didn’t want them to scream at me. The magazines were unloaded and people from newsstands came to collect them. One day I got the guts to go in and ask the guy if I could take a look. A few days later, I talked to him and he began to explain how distribution worked. It was so fascinating to me that he’d let me see magazines before they were on the newsstands. It was on one of those days when Mr. Jarrous asked me if I wanted to come the night before and he’d let me take whatever magazines I wanted so I wouldn’t be late for school. I would have magazines in my hand before anybody else in the entire city. I don’t think I slept that night.

All the while I stayed on the scientific course I had set for myself. I loved algebra and loved statistics, but I hated geometry. When I took the national test, the math exam was all on geometry. I flunked it badly. But when things were tough, I fell back on my hobby, when things were dark, I’d start dreaming, and when things were light, I kept on going.

The Success of Failure

Since that time, I have thought about one defining fact in my life, if I hadn’t flunked that year, my whole academic career would have ended one year earlier. My life would have been tragically different. I would have graduated before the Civil War in Lebanon began. I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t have had a job at the newspaper. So many things would have been different. But there is a reason for everything, I truly believe.

When I was repeating that year, my youth director came to me one day and said, “Samir what have you decided you want to do?” I said that I didn’t know – my parents wanted me to go to seminary or dental school. He looked me in the eye and said he knew it wasn’t his place to disagree with my parents, but, “If you do anything in your life besides journalism, you are disregarding the gift that God has given you.  You don’t have to be a preacher to tell people about God and his love. You don’t have to be a dentist and spend the whole day looking in people’s mouths. God has given you this gift called journalism, and that’s what you need to do.” That year I passed the exam because it was mainly algebra and statistics, and I told my parents that I was going to journalism school.

I had built up these expectations that they were going to be angry. But amazingly, they were resigned to the fact that this was going to be my chosen path. I realized that this was it. What I had been dreaming of the last decade from age 10 to 19 was about to become a reality. I was going to journalism school.  And they said okay. So in 1978, I packed up my life and my wife, and I traveled to the United States of America to pursue that dream where my moniker Mr. Magazine™ was born in May of 1986.

And now, I have the opportunity to share that dream with the entire world and reflect on life in magazines during the month and year in which I was born: March 1953. Please join me in viewing a snapshot of American magazine history that neither Google nor internet search engine can provide.  Those memories are alive and well on these pages.

Chapter Two coming soon… The Year Was 1953

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Two…

June 30, 2020

Chapter One, Part Two

It is Physical

I soon realized that it was the actual, physical presence of the magazine itself that grabbed me more than the content of what I was reading. Even at that young age, I knew there was more to it than just Superman. I felt that no matter how much I loved the Man of Steel, I loved the idea of the magazine more, holding it, reading the story, flipping the pages incessantly. Because I was really not as fascinated by the superhero himself as all my friends were, it was very easy for me to move on from getting every issue of Superman to getting other new magazines. I began to buy first issues of others. At that stage, it was still all comics.

Once I had a little more allowance, if I saw a magazine that I liked, I would buy it. In junior high, I used to watch my friends buying a Pepsi and a piece of cake during recess, but I would hold my 50 cents because I wasn’t going to waste it on Pepsi. I could at least buy something lasting, a magazine. That fascination was always there. I became obsessed with buying first editions. It was like some higher power put me on this track, one issue at a time. And it’s funny, when I remember sitting down to compare and evaluate those magazines, I would compare all those first editions and daydream about cover stories and what they were going to be. At that time, I was completely convinced that what I had found was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Along with my magazine addiction, I also revered education. I remember my early childhood, crying at the door, wanting to go to school with my sister and brother. I still remember on my own first day, I ran out of my new class trying to find my sister’s class. I was fascinated by the idea of school, but even more fascinated with creating my own imaginary class. I would create exams and tests for imaginary students that I would grade. I would create grade books for those imaginary students. I would lecture about different topics, and I would hold discussions with students on how they could enhance their grade.

Today, those childhood practices seem eerily familiar.

So it begins

Leading a youth group meeting at my church, Tripoli Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Lebanon.

When I finally came to the realization that I could not buy every magazine because I didn’t have the funds, I started trying to find little jobs. In high school, I even befriended the wholesaler in town, so I could see the magazines before they were distributed that morning.

One day the wholesaler said, “Kid, why don’t you go on to school and start coming here in the evenings? I will let you see what magazines we are going to distribute in the morning and I’ll let you buy them from here.”

I was like a kid in a candy store. To be able to get the magazines before anybody else in town, the night before, regardless of the magazine, was utopia to me.

I have also always had a deep fascination for seeing my name in print. I think I was in the eighth grade when I wrote my first short story and sent it to a magazine. I used to send letters to the publications. Any new magazine that came out, I would send them a letter, with my full name, because I wanted them to publish the letters in the “letters to the editor” section.

Magazines and seeing my name in print became the main reasons I drew breath each and every day. I held firm to the belief that God had paved the road before me and I was determined to follow it. I still believe that today. Although I personally feel that my religious beliefs were very solid, some of the content that my magazines contained could often put me at odds with those beliefs.

One day my sister found a stash of magazines with semi-naked people on the pages.  She asked me, “Why are you hiding these magazines?”

I tried to explain to her how I didn’t want to put them out there for everybody to see due to the content.

I’ll never forget the fierce emotion that I saw in her eyes and the words she spoke to me were just as impenetrable, “If you really believe in those magazines, you don’t need to hide them. If you’re going to hide them, you don’t need to buy them at all.”

But even with my sister’s convictions ringing in my ears, I still had conflicting emotions when it came to the magazines that, at the time, I deemed contradictory to my religious beliefs.

It Was Not a Walk in a Rose Garden

Fast forward to 1980, I remember when I bought my first issue of Playgirl. Well, let me rephrase that, when I had my first issue bought for me. There was no way I was going to walk up to the newsstand and buy Playgirl. That was just beyond the pale. It took a lot of convincing to get my wife to stand in front of me and pretend that she was the one buying it, and of course, she’d never forgive me if I reminded her of it. I could foresee a lot of apologizing in my immediate future once she reads this book. It was during that time period when I became more interested in the creative aspect of magazines. With that mindset, I could justify looking at magazines that were somewhat adverse to my Christian beliefs and be able to critique and enjoy them from a different perspective than simply writing them off as unacceptable.

No amount of fortune telling would have predicted my journey with magazines, my destiny.

But not only did I want to look at the magazines, I wanted to create them. I started my own tiny magazines and my own daily newspapers, creating them from scratch, by listening to radio stations and absorbing all of the media outlets available to me at that time. No matter who I became involved with – scouts, Sunday school, youth groups – any organization that I was a part of, I convinced them to start a magazine. I would call long distance to Beirut, which was expensive, but call I would, and ask all the magazines questions. It was a lot of fun, the whole experience of creating magazines, of getting involved in any way I could, and there was always the chance I would see my name in print. I loved that possibility. I wouldn’t change the childhood I enjoyed for anything.

Needless to say, not everyone thought my fascination for ink on paper was as incredibly wonderful as I did… my mother, for example, was a naysayer. I was the kid that she would always yell at asking me, “Why don’t you go outside like the normal kids and play?”

My mom, until her last breath, felt that I am spending too much money on magazines.

Even until her death, my mom thought I was wasting all of my money on “just paper”. A lot of my relatives still don’t know what I do. They think I just read magazines. It frustrates my wife to no end when she tries to explain it.

I still have some of my magazine collection in an apartment in Lebanon. I moved them there after my mother’s death. I still vividly remember Mom’s voice every time I visited, always ask me if it’s all right if she gave the magazines away. I would ask her, “Mom are they really bothering you? They’ve been sitting in the attic for years.” But she definitely worried about them, whether their presence really annoyed her or not. One time there was some mold on some of the magazines, so she washed them. The mold had to go. The memory still makes me smile.

From There to Here

Sometimes I wonder if the people I work with on a daily basis even understand exactly what I do. I remember one time here at the University of Mississippi, which has been my academic home for 35 years now; the Arab Student Association had a reception for then Chancellor Robert Khayat because he was of Lebanese descent. I was sitting on the Chancellor’s right and the Director of the Natural Pharmacy center was on his left. The good director was also in charge of the marijuana fields that are grown for research purposes here at the university. When Dr. Khayat stood up to make his speech, I’ll never forget what he said:

“I might be the only chancellor in the country that can say that sitting on my left is a man who grows marijuana and tells me he’s doing his job, and sitting on my right is a man who sits in his office all day reading Hustler magazine and tells me he’s doing his job.”

Of course, I know the Chancellor was joking; however, I’m sure there are those who wonder about me and my job, and the director of the marijuana fields. After all, the name Samir in Arabic means the jester or entertainer of kings. Personally, I’d rather go with entertainer of kings, but either way Samir is the person who entertains you and humors you throughout the days and nights. Something to think about. Something so appropriate for a magazine.

To be continued…

In case you missed part one from Chapter One, click here.

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part One…

June 23, 2020

The Beginning

Addictions can manifest in many shapes and forms. They take over your life. They can start at any age. Imagine being a 10-year-old junkie. Addicted to something with no control. If you can’t imagine it, allow me to step into your mind and help you envision it.

In order to help you fully understand, I have to start at the very beginning. I was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon. I can vividly recall the two things that really impacted my young life: my dad’s storytelling from the Bible and my grandpa’s reading from it. It’s the only book I ever remember my father telling me stories from, and it made a definite impression on me and how I viewed my life. It was my first interaction with ink on paper and the power it possessed. 

The Box of Wonders

In those times, it was safe to go out in the neighborhood and play with friends for hours. We would interact with all sorts of people in the city. One of those people was a peddler who used to ply his wares on the streets of Tripoli. He had a container that was referred to as the “viewer’s box.” It was this big, giant viewfinder, the kind you can still buy today in the toy department at Wal-Mart, only a much, much larger version. The peddler would go around the streets of the city with a monkey sitting on top of his shoulder, and when he came into our neighborhood he would call to my friends and me to “look” into the box. He would have around ten strips inside that would tell a story. The viewer was 3D and had three openings where you could place your eyes to watch, and as we watched the slides click by, the man would verbally unfold the riveting tale while we watched.

The box of wonders (picture from Google images)

After the short show, we would laugh and clap with delight as the monkey would come out and collect the money the man charged for the afternoon diversion.

These small glimpses, teases, into a world of visual and verbal stimulation, would be a slight spark in a very young boy’s life that would grow to an inferno when that boy became a man.

Remembering that long-ago afternoon with the peddler’s homemade viewfinder now, I realize that that was the moment in time when I learned that the visuals can make the story. The entire tale he shared with us was based upon the pictures.

And I suppose that was the very beginning, the first pebble that would put me on the road to my destiny.

The Man of Steel

In 1962, we had just gotten our first television set. It was a large brown box with an oval-shaped screen that only showed pictures in black and white. In the 1960s, television in Lebanon was not available 24 hours a day. The first programming started at 6:30 p.m.  The first hour was reserved for children’s programming and then the rest of the programming was for adults, and went until 10:30 or 11:00 pm. By no means did television rule or dictate your day.

What mainly attracted us (my friends and I) to the children’s programming, were these characters: Mighty Mouse, Popeye, and Casper. Then, when I was 10 years old, we started seeing advertising touting the phrase: “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman.”

It was a new magazine. Back then, in Lebanon, we called all the comic books magazines. The combination of the ad and the storyline was so fascinating. It made all the kids where I lived – in a 10-apartment complex – say, “Wow, I need to see this!”

The first issue of the Arabic Superman published in Lebanon. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

The day the magazine hit the newsstands, I knew I had to have it. Back then, my allowance was 40 cents a week. The magazine cost 40 cents. It was fate.

When I held the magazine in my hands for the first time, ran the pads of my fingers across the shiny cover, I felt an indescribable sensation that felt similar to an adrenaline rush. At that moment, I truly believe I was ordained, my life’s path had been chosen before I was born and at the age of 10, I was at last privy to a glimpse of my future; that day, my heart stopped pumping blood and began to pump ink.

The most important facet of the “Superman” transformation to me was the fact that it was my magazine. Mine. It wasn’t borrowed. No one was going to read it to me and not finish it. I would be able to absorb it, cover to cover, at my leisure. That was what was mesmerizingly unbelievable to me.

Without even knowing where all this would lead, or even what it really meant at the age of 10, I began the journey. I think the transformation unwittingly molded me into the person I am now as an adult: one of those people who believe it’s not as important to see the end destination as it is to be on the right track. You have to be on the right track, even if the bright path before you narrows into a dark, small tunnel. If you are, then God will make sure your end destination is beyond your wildest dreams.

And I think that’s what put me on the right track – the fascination that suddenly I was in control of the show and tell, of the story, of the imagination, of everything. 

The Art of Show & Tell

At Tripoli Boys School, better known as The American School, in Tripoli, Lebanon

Before too long, I was designing and creating content for my own little creations. Crayon and marker magazines that became my escape into a world foreign, yet so vivid and familiar, it was as though I had known it from the womb.

Little did I know that addiction starts out this way, it was such an extreme that I would get so immersed in reading that I could not even eat without a magazine at the table next to me. I could not drink without a magazine next to me. That is, until I got married and the magazine was banned from the breakfast table or the lunch table.

I was always reading. If I was on a bus, I was reading a magazine. If I was walking down the sidewalk, I was reading a magazine. It was as though I couldn’t function normally if a magazine wasn’t with me. Addiction at its best (or worst, however you might look at it).

A funny story – I don’t know if it was funny at the time – but my dad used to be a foreman in a refinery in Tripoli, Lebanon,  and there was a private beach on the Mediterranean for the employees’ children. Every summer, a bus would run hourly and collect the employees’ children and their friends, and then bring them back home in the evening. It was approximately a 15-minute ride to the beach. One time, on the way home from the beach, I was so engrossed in reading a magazine that I was paying no attention to my surroundings and assumed that the bus had reached our apartment. Unlike the U.S., buses operated with their doors open and without seatbelts of any kind, this was the 1960s after all. As I continued reading my magazine, I stepped off the bus at what I believed to be my apartment stop. The problem was it was not my apartment stop and the bus was still in motion when I stepped off.

Addiction or Fascination

At age 11 (left), the summer of 1964, with my sister Janet and brother Shukri.

I remember the incident vividly, as if it were yesterday, it was like something was restraining me, pressing back against my body and then fast and hard, it pushed me all the way down against the asphalt. Boom, gone. I woke up in the hospital. I saw my mom and the first thing I asked for was my magazine. I don’t know if the accident messed up my brain that day, but it seemed a good sign that the obsession, the addiction, the gift, or whatever you want to call it, clearly was in full force by that age.

I wish I could say that after I grew up I changed my habits, but I remember as an adult, driving from my office when I was working at a newspaper, reading and flipping through a magazine that was lying on the seat next to me, not paying any attention until the sounds of car horns alerted me to look up and I realized that I had almost driven into a utility pole. At that point, I promised myself I’d never again read a magazine when I was driving. I started putting the magazines on the back seat instead of the front, but like any promises an addict makes to himself, it only lasted a week or two.

After the first issue of Superman came out, everyone was fascinated with the “Man of Steel” and the flying cape. Still to this day, I remember hearing rumors of people trying to jump out of windows when Superman first appeared on the scene. There saving grace was that they lived on the first floors of their buildings.

The cover of issue 19 of
Superman with the Superman emblem gift. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

As Superman became more popular, it also increased in price. And something major happened 19 weeks later when issue 19 came out on June 11, 1964. It came with a gift – a Superman emblem that you could stitch to your shirt. But as with most magazines, when something like that happens, the price is increased. The price for that issue was 70 piasters, and of course, my allowance was 40 piasters. I could not buy the magazine immediately. I asked my dad for another 30 piasters. I told him it was to buy my Superman magazine and he said he wasn’t going to give me money to waste on paper, and that I didn’t need that “stuff”; little did he know that I needed that stuff very badly. Nothing can stand between an addict and his addiction, much less a little thing like money.

In Lebanon, there were grocery stores on the corner every few blocks, one of which was located directly across the street from my apartment. You could buy sugar, milk, coffee, magazines, newspapers, and other items on a daily basis – it wasn’t a time when you could do all your shopping for the week at once. The owner of the store kept a little notebook where he would compile a tab of your family’s groceries that you would settle with him at the end of every month. One afternoon as I entered the store, my pockets 30 cents shy of the amount I needed for the issue, I wondered how in the world I was going to get that special copy without the rest of the money. I walked up to the owner.

“I would like my Superman magazine, please,” I told him, my mind churning with ideas on how I was going to pull this one off.

“The price for this issue is almost double, 70 ,” the owner said.

“Just put it on my dad’s tab,” I told him.

The minute the words flew out of my mouth, I knew there was no taking them back. And I didn’t even want to. I had to have that issue.

Needless to say, my dad saw the cost of the copy on his bill at the end of the month and I got punished with a good spanking. But…I still got my magazine.

To be continued…

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