Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mike Hinge 80th Anniversary : Sanford Zane Meschkow

Sandford is a writer and editor and met Mike Hinge in the mid 60's and has written a personal memoir for Mike remembering certain art projects and the materials and practices he used as well writing a short SF story "A Friend of Max". As well a clarification of Mikes actual date of birth.

See some of Sandford's early SF writing here:


By Sanford Zane Meschkow

When I first joined science fiction fandom back in the 1960s, authors always seemed to be writing essays in fan publications about being cornered by fans asking them where they got their ideas. Knowing Mike for 36 years, I soon learned where he got his ideas: EVERYWHERE! The artistic potential of all sorts of objects seemed to fascinate him.
When several Philadelphia friends and SF fans helped me clean out his apartment after his death, his effects included a slide projector and a huge collection of slides. A few were of his artwork, most of them sold or lost items. Many more were of views of his kinetic sculptures and frames from incomprehensible experimental movies. But the majority of the slides were part of a huge reference file. Think street signs, fire hydrants, traffic lights, street lamps, sewer grates, manhole covers, store fronts, posters on fences, cast iron gates, etc. It was as if he was collecting reference material to build himself a gigantic back lot version of New York. You might say that this was just the act of a compulsive person. But what did it lead to?
Founded in 1923, Barney’s once was a landmark New York men’s store that filled the whole block at 7th Avenue and 17th Street. Here’s a short paragraph from one of Mike’s resumes: “For Barney’s Clothiers: Supergraphic street mural, concepts for building entrance, lights, graphics, colors, etc. (3-D lettering sign made up of plumbing fittings and pipe, spacing and positioning logo cutout from steel, backlighted in fluorescent tubes).”
That street mural? It was an eye-catching arrangement of representations of manhole covers in a contrasting color on a black background. There were easily a dozen different manhole cover designs represented. Who but Mike Hinge could have conceived of making art out of manhole covers? Yes, if you wanted an illustration of a New York street scene, Mike was the guy to see. No, he didn’t only paint robots on roller skates.
Mike was fascinated by found objects. He collected everything from cigarette packs to, well, money. The U.S. coins he spent, of course, but it astounded us how many coins from Canada, France, and Caribbean and South American countries he had picked up from the street over the years. He had also accumulated a vast collection of bits and stuff for a planned giant collage which, sadly, had to be discarded after he died.
What media did Mike work in? Illustrators and designers used to do rough comps with marker pens. We found a huge set of Berol® PRISMACOLOR ® professional-quality markers that must have included over 100 colors, plus many shades of grey. He had replaced the markers in the original set with newer certified non-toxic markers as he used the old ones up. We would have liked to have donated it, except the oldest markers were so old that the pigments were in solution in some smelly hydrocarbon (benzene? toluene?) that we feared were probably pretty toxic. Working with them in a small room might have made Mike dizzy, but what he would have like about them was their ease of use and their vivid colors. He also liked to use Pelican Plaka casein emulsion paints from Germany and Dr. Ph. Martin’s dyes and acrylics. Robert and Joseph Switzer, who created fluorescent paints (like DayGlo) in 1934 couldn’t have hoped for an artist more eager to use them than Mike, who probably would have liked to have had DayGlo-colored blood.
Mike lived with my wife and I for about 14 months and in return he offered to paint our house – if he could pick the colors. Think of a staid suburban street with one incandescent painted lady of a house on it! We said no, but gently.
Mike liked to work large; the poster was a natural size for him. Also, his big preliminary sketches were as tight and as near completion as some other artist’s final versions. One of his works lost in various moves was a room-sized mural with a historical New Zealand theme that included a lot of Maori art motifs.
Yes, let’s talk of lost art and lost opportunities. Mike told us once that he had decided not to marry because he could never be sure of being able to support a family. He never seemed to have considered the possibility of finding and marrying a woman who worked outside of the home and who might have been capable of providing some cash as well as company during those lean times when art jobs are far apart. Marriage to a creative person can be a rocky road and the Mike I knew would have made a difficult husband, but marriage to the Mike I never knew, the one married to a women who made him happy and could have steered him in the right direction when he needed it – well, that would have been another story. How many covers for ANALOG and TIME might he have done then?
Had Mike been a more famous artist, less of his work would have been lost in moves or dumped when he couldn’t pay storage bills. To pay his taxes and convert some of his belongings to cash for his brother, we filled a van with his paintings and some of his commercial work and sent them off to be auctioned. We were told what not to include. Not his kinetic sculpture, no Parsec City posters, rough sketches, doodles, stats or machine copies of works, nothing of the type of thing that would have had auction value if Mike had been as famous at his death as, say, Jack Kirby. Local friends and fans and I saved some of that unwanted stuff from going into the recycle bin. A lot of that appears on this blog thanks to Ivan. And there is still more out there, so don’t give up, Friends of Mike (FOMs) and inhabitants of Parsec City. Maybe today someone will open a dusty box in an attic that their uncle was holding for some guy named Mike and find it is full of fluorescent wonders.


Aside 1: Copy of an email I received from Sandy Meschkow and a Mike Hinge inspired story:
A Friend of Max.

Dear Ivan,

   I thought the fans of your site might enjoy another bit of fan fiction inspired by Mike Hinge. Mike was no mad scientist, although his electronic sculptures were really something! And he could have made more money during his later years if he were socially adept enough to work with art galleries and smooze more. But he was pretty much a loner and both essentially shy and uncompromising – a bad combination in a field where self-promotion is essential. Mike’s actual apartment is well-described in this story and Mike did have a few friends that kept him going in his later years when the number of science fiction magazines dwindled and the rise of computer graphics cut the ground out from under many established illustrators working in the commercial art field. And if Mike had invented a time machine, it surely would have turned out to have something wrong with it, because he seemed plagued by bad luck.
                                                                                                                                                Sandy Meschkow

Read Sandy's story here: http://onyxcube.weebly.com/

Aside 2: A contribution by Sandy Meschkow regarding Mike's actual birth date.

Mike’s date of birth actually was August 9, 1931. The exact date of his death is uncertain, but it was probably only a few days or two from his birthday in 2003. I still have a big file of letters and stuff about Mike, so it will be no problem to come up with something interesting to say.

Here’s one thing; some sources may say that Mike was born in 1937, and here’s why. When Mike went through the U.S. immigration process, he presented adequate paperwork to establish his date of birth, but in the English (or Continental?) fashion the “1”  at the end of his year of birth had a slash through it, so the clerk read it as a “7”. Mike never bothered to go through the hassle of changing it when he was young. But in his last few years he could have really used those extra years of Social Security that he had been cheated out of by a clerical error. We were furious with him when we found out that he had not taken care of that!! Here was a guy who was known as Captain Copyright for enlightening other artists about their rights and got into hot water with some sleazy publishers by not allowing them to swipe his rights and artwork, but was so intimidated by the U.S. Immigration Service and Social Security Administration that he didn’t dare try to get his date of birth corrected. It’s really sad! We helped him sign up for Social Security and you could tell he was sweating bullets through the whole process. 
                                                                                                                                             Sandy Meschkow   

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