Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

San Diego Memories


by Rick Marschall

I am not at Comicon International this week, and if you are reading this in Yesterday’s Papers at release time, you probably are not either. On the other hand, you might be. True cartoon and comics fans don’t put their worlds on hold when a convention like San Diego consumes 18 hours of days during the Con: they somehow fit them into their “normal” waking hours.

I have received many texts and calls, asking if I am there this year. Not this year, but I have attended most of them since 1976. Some memories here from an event whose functions including making memories, not only tracing them or collecting them.

In 1976 I attended with Bob Weber, who drew and still draws the Moose comic strip. I was living in Chicago; he divided his time between Baltimore and Westport CT. Bob loves hanging with other cartoonists and talking cartoons; and he has a fan’s enthusiasm for meeting artists for the first time, and sharing his fan perspective.

True to form for this poster child of a deadline-challenged cartoonist, Bob traveled cross-country, but was so late with his strips for King Features, he stayed in his hotel room almost every moment of the Con, drawing and inking strips. Once the Con ended, he was free, and we spent a week tooling up the West Coast, visiting cartoonists and haunting used-book stores.

A few years later, during the peregrinations between the El Cortez, the US Grant Hotel basement, the old convention center, before the monstrous current site, I was then an Editor at Marvel. To make a long story short – it is worth a separate column – the Con largely was still for collectors alone, virtually; and more and more pros and legends dropping in. My big project at Marvel at the time I recall was the three-issue process-color Weirdworld epic called “Warriors of the Shadow Realm.”

I convinced Stan Lee and Jim Shooter that the Comicon was something where Marvel should establish a beachhead. I proposed taking tables and showing the latest products. Then, since Peter Ledger, colorist, was delaying the third book – John Buscema and Rudy Nebres having finished their work – I suggested a PR gimmick of having Ledger actually paint his pages for the public. My motive was to make sure he finished the damned book, which he might not have done if we left him in New York City.

Actually my larger motive was to scam a trip to Comicon. Indeed, Marvel footed the bill for me and Ledger, and my assistant Ralph Macchio, and production wiz (and great friend) Elliot Brown, even Shooter too… to set up a large Marvel display. The pages were squeezed out of Ledger (who decided after the Con to stay in the US and not return to Australia).

Gary Groth, just having founded The Comics Journal, became an impromptu sidekick as I and Ralph and Elliot tore up Southern California, from Tijuana up to L.A., for the week afterward. We stayed out of jail; but Ledger did not; another story for later…

By the way, Comicon Board members, many of whom became very close friends, told me that the stunt I pulled off – Marvel’s presence; sales, promotion, and “meet the artists” – was the first space reserved by a comics publisher at the heretofore fan event.

Shel Dorf had founded Comicon and was always more of a strip fan, than a superhero or animation guy. Even after the Con had expanded beyond his dreams, and capacities, he always was deferential, I supposed due to my historian’s cred, and would take me one or two evenings during the Con to dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado, very gracious. That is how I met and had sane conversations with the likes of Ray Bradbury and Alex Toth (reasonably sane).

Ironically, eventually, sensible management of the Con really outpaced Shel’s vision and abilities, and a couple years Board members actually asked me to run interference if Shel erupted over being persona non grata at the event he founded. He never made a scene.

          Four historians share a moment at SDCC: R C Harvey, Shel Dorf, Rick Marschall, Ron Goulart

Before movie madness and video games and red carpets consumed Comicon, there was another-world aspect each year, of casual meetings becoming special; and special moments occurring routinely. So I will share three sketches that became special to me:

          Russ Manning drew Tarzan at and on the old El Cortez Hotel.

          I asked Noel Sickles, Milton Caniff’s onetime inspiration and studio-mate, to draw a sketch. “Of what?” he asked. I should have requested Scorchy Smith… but I suggested an impression of San Diego. 

          Everybody’s favorite gentleman, Batton Lash, was an old friend of mine from School of Visual Art days; before he and Jackie Estrada were wed. Bat, sadly, died this past year. He drew this page featuring his classic Wolff and Byrd characters.

We all have ‘em. Sketches and memories. Jackie Estrada published a great book of Con photos she took over the decades, fun and “candid” surprises on every page.

For a few years after launching Hogan’s Alley magazine, I held get-togethers – usually lunches or dinners at a local Mexican restaurant – for Friends of Ol’ Hogan as Tom Heintjes would call them. Here is a group of such friends on the steps. Good ol’ John Province would have been in the shot, except that he took the photo:

          Gene Hazleton; Rick Marschall; Shelly Moldoff; Ron Goulart; Dick Sprang; Vin Sullivan.

Whether attending as a fan, or speaking or interviewing, strolling or displaying at a booth, Comicon always provided memories. Friends from Europe would attend and hope that I would play Tour Guide afterwards to Hollywood, the deserts, Tijuana, Palm Springs, Julian… and I was always happy to oblige. Friends I made at the Con sometimes blossomed into greater friendships and extra-curricular activities. For a while I sought to establish a formal alliance with the Angouleme Festival in France, arranging for guests to attend San Diego; and helping Fay Desmond and Jackie Estrada navigate the communications, including room service at rural hotels, in France…

I hope the multitudes are manufacturing many memories this year too…


No comments:

Post a Comment