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NEW NONFICTION: The Threshold/Yurkovich Tapes (Part 1)

September 5, 2003

During the period of 1996 through 2000 writer/artist David Yurkovich chronicled the adventures of Threshold (aka, the SHOP [Super-Heroes of Philadelphia]) in a series of seven phamplet-styled comic books and one perfect-bound graphic novel. The projects were released through Sleeping Giant Comics (a former Philadelphia-based sequential art publisher currently headquartered in Los Angeles, California).
There have been no Threshold/SHOP projects since 2000. There are several in development, but these are far from being completed. Over the last few years, there has been varied speculation within and without the comics industry with regard to the cessation of Threshold’s/SHOP’s exploits.

In a 2001 article entitled “Whatever Happened to Philadelphia’s Heroes?” (Mondo Subba-Culture, 9[03]; B12-B13) journalist Dominique Durand noted:

“…insomuch as they are still active, it is somewhat surprising to find an absence of Threshold’s adventures on the shelves of local comic book sellers. Threshold continue to function (albeit under the more pretentious moniker of ‘SHOP’) as Center City’s masked champions, yet Yurkovich’s black-and-white dramatizations of their explorations into crime fighting are decidedly missing. While critics have accused his work as being ‘too stylized,’ it is this very aspect of the work (and the fact that the stories are loosely reality based) that thrusts it above the multitude of skin-tight leotard-wearing fictional ‘super-hero’ comics by mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC. It is not polished to an artificial sheen; it is rough and ready, a slice-of-life (ala, MTV’s Real World) at its most absurd…”

Seasoned Philadelphia This Week reporter Patrick McNew, in an editorial published in the September 3, 2002, issue (p. 6) stated:

“…seeing how they live their lives essentially in a concrete castle in the sky, one cannot help but wonder what these masked heroes have been doing, aside from living off the city’s rather generous budget. Despite their overall camp and adolescence, Yurkovich’s Threshold/SHOP stories at least gave the public a glimpse into the world of this otherwise mystery-enshrouded quartet of self-described do-gooders. In that regard, at least, his work is certainly missed…”

Others, such as noted comic book creator Reed McKeety (Metro Pool), were less than dismal over the absence of new Threshold/SHOP tales, as noted in a letter to the editor published in CFB: Comic Fan-Base magazine (June, 2002):

“…I mean, it was all just kind of stupid. Nothing more than a rip-off of the film and comic book series Mystery Men. Yurkovich had nothing original to say. I mean, I know the stories were supposedly based on the adventures of Philadelphia’s real-life super-heroes. But that doesn’t make them good. I mean, Marvel used to publish the Human Fly comic, based on the adventures of some apparently real-life stunt guy. I never liked that series, and I didn’t like this one, either. I think his basic problem is that he lacks imagination and talent. When he’s not ripping off my style, he’s drawing these big blocky, goofy-looking shapes. It would work fine if he was, I dunno, doing layouts for someone else to finish. Didn’t he do layouts for an SLG comic for a while? I think he was fired or something. Anyway, if he had any talent at all he’d be doing work with DC or Marvel, right?”

These ramblings aside, the initial question remains unanswered:

Why haven’t there been any new stories?

It’s no secret that Threshold/SHOP have had dozens more adventures than the handful portrayed in the Sleeping Giant serials. Even the local papers and tv-news have reported on Threshold’s apprehension of the Coffee Cartel, 10-40 (aka, Tax-Man), and CODA. So what has happened—or more specifically, not happened, with Yurkovich and Sleeping Giant?

The following transcript may provide a few answers. The text below is from an audio-taped meeting between Yurkovich and Threshold that occurred sometime between the publication of Threshold 3: Demolition and The SHOP graphic novel. A review of front desk sign-in sheets between 1995 and 2000 shows that Yurkovich visited Threshold at their 18th and Market Street headquarters on two occasions: March 3, 1995, and December 17, 1997, respectively. As Yurkovich reported in several issues of the now defunct fan-club newsletter, Wide Awake in America (a nonsubtle homage to U2), most of his communication with Threshold typically occurred via phone conversations with Recoil. Phone records show there was very little communication between the two after December 17, 1997, so it seems apparent that is the date of the transcribed meeting. The discussion was recorded by Yurkovich using a portable Radio Shack cassette recorder (model no. D-55) and two TDK-SA-90 audio cassettes. The tapes were transcribed at Audio-Transcription Associates, Cherry Hill, New Jersey (Marsha Mayer, senior transcriptionist). The tapes and transcription remain copyright 2002 by David Yurkovich and are reprinted here with his permission. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is a violation of U.S. Copyright Law. The transcribed recording appears below as it occurred and has not been edited or altered in any way. However, during several sections the audio was unclear; at these junctures the translator has either taken a “best guess” at what was being said and has so indicated this at each occurrence or has simply noted “inaudible.” Likewise, certain annotations appear throughout to indicate voice tone, gaps in the dialogue, and background noises (such as the pouring of coffee, the turning of pages, etc). Each individual speaker is noted by the following naming sequence:

Cosmopolitan (COSMO)
Meridian (MERIDIAN)
Mr. Malevolence (MALEVOLENCE)
Recoil (RECOIL)
David Yurkovich (DY)

Little else needs be said since the transcription should, to use the ages-old cliché, speak for itself. If nothing more, it should shine a bit of light onto an otherwise black sky:

DY: Let me just check the levels on this—not that there are levels, necessarily. I mean, it’s from Radio Shack, ya know.
[approximately one-minute silence follows]
Okay, so…here we are. [clears throat]
COSMO: Well, on behalf of everyone here I want to thank you for coming down to see us.
DY: I came up to see you.
COSMO: You came up?
DY: Well, yeah, I mean, I live south of you, so I traveled north. You’re on the 18th floor, so I took the elevator up. I came up, right?
COSMO: Yeah. Um, whatever.
DY: Is everything okay? I mean, we’ve been working together for, ya know, a couple of years, and this is the first time you’ve asked me here.
MERIDIAN: There’s—there’s a few things we’d like to address regarding the series.
DY: Oh. Uh, sure. Okay.
MALEVOLENCE: Look, David, no one is here to attack you, or to criticize your work. It’s good work.
RECOIL: Mostly.
MALEVOLENCE: No, I think it’s good, Recoil.
RECOIL: What about your head?
DY: Excuse me?
RECOIL: Malevolence was saying earlier how he thought you really were not drawing his head very well. It’s either really long or really scrunched up. You know. No consistency.
DY: Well, you know. It’s a learning process.
MERIDIAN: It’s slow-going. I mean, you’ve done, what—five, six issues?
DY: I don’t understand. Are you dissatisfied with the quality of the work?
COSMO: I wouldn’t exactly say we’re dissatisfied. I guess…I guess we weren’t exactly sure what you were going to be doing with this series when we first agreed to a publishing contract with you and Sleeping Giant.
DY: I…I thought it was clear. I mean, I’m adapting your adventures—right?
MALEVOLENCE: Okay, there’s that. But…okay, look. Let’s look at the first issue. This is the first issue of the series, right. We’re not even on the front cover. I mean, you put a drawing of milk and cookies on the cover.
RECOIL: Skim milk, no less.
MALEVOLENCE: Yes, skim milk. We don’t drink skim milk.
RECOIL: And there’s this drawing of us on the back cover that—
DY: Yes?
RECOIL: Well, it’s not…it’s not that it isn’t good. It’s just…it’s just not what we expected to see.
DY: We…we did discuss the cover concepts though, right? I mean, I remember talking about it on the phone with—I think it was with you, Recoil.
RECOIL: Um, right, but I thought you were going to feature us on the cover. I thought that was the point of it. I mean, who is going to buy a periodical with milk and cookies on the cover?
COSMO: Fat kids with sugar fetishes would buy it.
RECOIL: That’s really not our audience though, do you think?
COSMO: Well, have you seen some of the kids who read comics?
RECOIL: Granted, but I think we’re losing focus here. I thought the point of the first issue’s cover of Threshold would have been to show Threshold—us—on the cover.
DY: Hmmmmm. No. I think…I’m pretty sure we agreed to do milk and cookies on the front cover. You know, as a kind of niche thing to offset you from the fiction-based heroes.
RECOIL: Maybe. But we don’t drink skim milk.
MERIDIAN: Let’s not nit-pick the man to death, Recoil. Moving on, I want to ask you a question about the inside front cover. You’ve reproduced the October 12 front cover to The Philadelphia Reporter--
DY: Yes, and at no little expense.
MERIDIAN: But look—you replaced the photo of us with a line drawing that shows—
MERIDIAN: That shows me eating a cookie.
DY: There was a, um, problem getting permission from the paper to reproduce the photo. Ya know, I was under deadline and, well, I didn’t really have much choice.
MERIDIAN: And the caption beneath the drawing: “They’re heeerrrreee!” That wasn’t in the original newspaper article. I mean, was it supposed to be some sort of joke? Some kind of inside comic book writer joke?
DY: It’s from Poltergeist.
COSMO: Poltergeist? What’s…Poltergeist?
DY: It was an early 1980s horror movie by Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg.
COSMO: Never heard of it.
DY: It was extremely popular. There were about 3 theatrical sequels before it was developed into a cable-TV series.
COSMO: Cable…TV?
DY: Anyway, it’s about this suburban family whose house is visited by ghosts (since it was built on an ancient Indian burial ground and the developers didn’t move the graves). So there’s this little girl and she can see and hear the ghosts and when they first arrive she shouts “They’re heerrrreee!” That was the joke.
COSMO: When you say “Indian burial ground” are you talking Ghandi or Chief Crazy Horse?
RECOIL: Okay, I have a question. And I’m not trying to—what did you say Meridian?
MERIDIAN: Nit-pick.
RECOIL: Right, I’m not trying to nit-pick, but honestly, what is with the goatee?
DY: The goatee?
RECOIL: C’mon…don’t be coy. You drew me in [“18th and Market Streets”] issue 1 with a goatee on—look at this…page 5, page 6, page 7, page 12, 24, 25, 26. And in issue 2 it’s there from pages 1 to 25 but then…poof…suddenly it disappears on page 26 and doesn’t appear again.
DY: I’m…not sure I’m understanding the question.
RECOIL: [agitated] Why was it there in the first place?
DY: Well, you know, that was like, 1996 when I drew that. I was probably reading DC’s Starman at the time. The protagonist wore…I think he wore a goatee. It must have just occurred as, you know, a subconscious-type thing. But I don’t think it hurt the story. I didn’t get any letters about it. Did you get any letters about it?
RECOIL: Um…no. I mean, I don’t remember, really. Probably not.
DY: Look, I’m starting to feel like I’m on trial here. How long have you harbored these feelings? I mean, I’ve been sending copies of the comics to you for over a year now. You haven’t said anything. Even before they went on press you reviewed photocopies.
MERIDIAN: We’re not here to attack you. But, you know, we don’t exactly have time to scrutinize comic books for minor errors.
DY: Apparently you do, 18 months after the fact. But go ahead. I need to know this stuff anyway. If you wanna play dog-pile on the non-super-powered cartoonist that’s fine.
MERIDIAN: Don’t be angry with us.
DY: I’m not angry. I just…I just wish I’d known about this sooner. Do you remember when I first met you? It was at 30th Street Station, right after you apprehended the Demolition and prevented the train station from being destroyed. Do you remember what I said to you?
MALEVOLENCE: I think you asked if we knew what time the R-5 to Doylestown was boarding.
DY: That’s right, and do you remember what you said to me?
MALEVOLENCE: Um…I’m pretty sure I told you to fuck off.
DY: That’s right, and do you remember what I said to you?
MALEVOLENCE: No. I’d already walked out of ear shot.
RECOIL: I remember. You introduced yourself and showed us a bunch of sketchbooks that had a lot of naked men inside. Wait--those weren’t sketchbooks—they were magazines. Gay porn magazines. You were carrying a backpack full of gay porn magazines.
DY: They were sketchbooks, Recoil. I introduced myself and told you I wanted to do a comic book based on you.
RECOIL: Okay. So?
DY: [emphasis] Based. I said based on you. It’s not entirely you. You’re just the archetypes—the building blocks. I’m telling stories around that.
RECOIL: Okay. And….?
DY: And nothing. I mean…and…and that’s why there are deviations from reality. It’s called dramatic license. That’s why Malevolence had a fight with a Russian super-villain named Root Canal at a supermarket. That’s why Cosmopolitan uses his magic to levitate snacks into his room.
MALEVOLENCE: But Root Canal wasn’t a Russian. He was a dental student from New Jersey named Vinny DeMilo who, if anything, spoke with a Brooklyn accent.
DY: That’s the point. Root Canal, aka Bobby Forester, aka Vincent DeMilo, was a bit too stereotypical as a villain. Would you have preferred him to say to you: “I will show you pain the likes of which you’ve never experienced,” which is how I wrote it, or: “I’m gonna mess youse up good,” which, in all likelihood, was what he said.
COSMO: I really do use magic to levitate snacks into my room, you know. Magic makes me hungry for grilled brauts.
MALEVOLENCE: Okay, I get it, I get it. But tell me this, smart guy—how come on the last page of the comic [“Threshold: 18th and Market Streets” issue 1] you’ve got what’s clearly my hand reaching into a medicine cabinet that’s full of products like Magic Bowel, Ko-Mode 500, Liquid Laxitive, Max Lax, Clean Bowel Soap, and Bowel Blast?
MERIDIAN: Bowel Blast? Let me see that. [sound of pages being leafed through] Oh, oh Jesus. [giggling] That—that’s pretty funny.
COSMO: Let me see. [strong laughter]
RECOIL: I—[intense laughter]. Oh man. Oh, that’s—Magic Bowel [laughter] oh man.
MALEVOLENCE: It’s not funny. Stop laughing. What if it was your hand he’d drawn?
COSMO: You—you were doing that all-cheese diet for a while, remember?
DY: Look, I based that drawing on a photo. I can show you the photo if you’d like. It was one I took during my shoot back in ’95. Anyway, on the cover of issue 2 I obscured the product names.
MALEVOLENCE: That’s true…I guess.
DY: What else?
RECOIL: Magic Bowel. Oh, man.
COSMO: Okay. Seriously. I think we need to talk a bit about your portrayal of our social habits as well as our dialogue. I mean, in issue 1 there is a scene in which Meridian and I are talking and she makes a reference to me being the “David Copperfield” of the super-hero magic sect to which I reply, “Good God, no.” What is your major problem with David Copperfield?
DY: You…like David Copperfield?
COSMO: People are always dumping on Copperfield. The guy’s a genius.
DY: I didn’t…
COSMO: Never mind that his wife is magically-babelicious. Never mind that he’s probably the most famous magician living or dead. Never mind all that. The man made the Statue of Liberty…vanish. I mean, how many people have done that?
DY: Cosmopolitan, you, um, realize, of course, it didn’t actually vanish—it was just an illusion orchestrated through the use of two huge props, a black curtain, a slowly revolving stage, and some backlighting. I mean…you did, uh, know that, right?
COSMO: I…you…
[approximately 30 seconds silence]
Will you all, um, excuse me for a, uh, moment.
[footsteps followed by door opening and closing]
COSMO: [from adjacent room—inaudible though highly primal in pitch and tone]
RECOIL: Way to go…you just pissed off Cosmo.

NEXT: The transcripts continue…

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