The Count Dante Connection

By | Friday, October 27, 2023 1 comment
I was chatting with a coworker yesterday and she got to talking about her grandfather, noting that he had a black belt in karate and was a pretty well-known figure in the Chicago area. She then provided this 1964 flyer for the "World Karate Championship" as proof, stating that the gentleman on the left was he grandfather. However, my eyes immediately locked on to the guy doing the flying kick. Not because he was being shown in a more dramatic position, but because he looked familiar. I did a quick Google search on "John Keehan," the only name mentioned on the flyer and realized that he was more famously known as Count Dante!

"Oh, crap," I said. "You're grandfather sparred with Count Dante!?!"

"Um, yeah, they were friends. How do you know Count Dante?!"

Count Dante is a name that should be familiar to anyone who's read more than a few comic books from the 1970s. His ads ran in hundreds of books throughout the decade, and were almost as well-known as the Charles Atlas ones. For a nominal fee, you could join the Black Dragon Fighting Society and learn the secret of "The Death Touch" from the self proclaimed "Deadliest Man Alive." In hindsight, it's easy for me to spot more than a little gratuitous self-promotion and hyperbole involved, but to a seven-year-old kid reading the latest issue of Batman, Count Dante was a legend!

I won't go into details about Keehan or his life here. Not because they aren't interesting -- they absolutely are -- but because there is no way I could do the man justice. He led a pretty bat-shit-crazy life, one where you could just randomly throw in the most fantastical story elements and they wouldn't seem out of place. My coworker later added, "I was talking to my mom about it, and she said he once brought a lion cub to their house -- apparently his pet for some time? But then he couldn't afford to feed it anymore so donated it to a Lions Club or something... for unsurprising reasons, my grandma didn't like him coming around."

Apparently, there's even a comic book "sort of true" biography that's actually being published right now from Scout Comics. Five issues are out so far, and the sixth is due towards the end of November, I believe. It's written by J.C. Barbour and drawn by Wes Watson. I've no idea if it's any good or how "sort of true" it actually is, but it sounds like fun, and I'll be picking it up for myself soon.

In any event, it just struck me as a weird coincidence. My coworker only ever knew Keehan as this weird friend of her grandfather's and never expected anyone to know of him. She had just been talking about how cool her grandpa was. And, you know, if her grandpa was joint owner of a major Chicago dojo with Count Dante, I am far from being able to contest his coolness!
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Billy Hogan said...

I saw that ad in many comic books I read growing up in the 1970's.