Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

A Twist of Fate.

by Rick Marschall.

The story of an unlikely angel of mercy.

Beginning in 1978, I attended the annual or biennial Lucca Festivals in Italy. To state it properly, and as grandly as they deserve, the International Salons of Comics, Illustration, and Animation in the beautiful ancient walled city of Lucca, in Tuscany.

Heaven on earth for comics scholars. Every convocation, in its golden days, was comprised of monographs, round tables, interviews, exhibitions, awards. And grand dining in the commune’s many restaurants. And reconnections, drinking, singing, networking, like family reunions, well into each night in various hotels. Through it all, scholarship and shared ideas.

Recently, Lucca’s longtime director Rinaldo Traini died, and I have been accumulating memories and show-and-tell materials for an upcoming Crowded Life.

But one story here from one year, I think I am recalling correctly as 1984. I had begun my stint as the American representative, and that year was sort of an American Year, a number of all-expenses-paid invitations (travel, hotels, meals) for me to issue among American cartoonists.

David Pascal, really my partner and predecessor, was there – a regular from the start, invariable designer of Lucca’s posters. Lee Falk was there – not his first Lucca; an early honoree for the creator of Mandrake and The Phantom – with his young wife Elizabeth. I invited Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth and Jaime Hernandez (an award for Love and Rockets was a virtual fix; I usually served on the jury or nominated American material). Jerry Dumas (Sam and Silo) and his wife Gail represented the strip world. In a forgivable white lie, Jerry – every week of whose life was already amazing – told me afterward that the Lucca trip was the best week of their lives. Frank Thorne, sans Red Sonja, was there in full costume and special stage effects. And many more.

One night, communing in a hotel lounge, the elderly Lee Falk indicated that he and Elizabeth wanted to return to their hotel. Counting heads in out little group, I knew I could not fit everyone in my hired car… and the rest of us were not ready to retire. Some configuration of walking and driving was possible, but an American publisher had been obdurately naive all week, from ordering food to walking around the city; he and his cartoonist friend were as waifs who needed to be ferried that evening.

Knowing that the little city’s taxis would cease their service soon, I left the lounge and ran across the square by the Teatro Giglio. There were two taxis waiting. The fellow getting in to one was Alberto Salinas, whom I had not previously met; his father was the great Jose Luis Salinas (Cisco Kid). I asked the second taxi to take me to the hotel, where I would trade places with Lee Falk and Elizabeth.

Before all that, however, in my haste not to miss a taxi or inconvenience a couple of helpless tourists, and while running across the dark and rainy square, I slipped on a cobblestone and badly sprained my ankle. My wife Nancy joined the Falks and returned to our hotel. After a while, and in intense pain, I chauffeured the other Americans to their various hotels.

Many of the Americans were put up in the ancient villa outside Lucca, on the road to Pisa, a walled estate called Villa la Principessa. Elegant, beautiful. When I got to the room, Nancy said that she met an American lady next door and told her about my twisted ankle. And that the lady offered aspirin and an Ace bandage, if I needed.

We knocked on her door, and the short, friendly lady indeed had a new Ace Bandage, and volunteered to wrap it. A funny thing was that with every wrap and re-positioning, and tightening, and loosening, she asked how it felt, or was it too tight, etc., in different voices!

One sounded like Rocket J Squirrel… one sounded just like Natasha… then like Granny from the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons… then like the voice in middle of the Chatty Cathy doll…

Nancy excused herself and I stayed a few moments and chatted with June Foray. I had not known she would be at the Lucca Festival… much less in the next room. The legendary June Foray, the Woman of a Thousand Voices; founder of ASIFA; veteran of comedy projects with Stan Freberg and Steve Allen. She became a good friend after the makeshift-ER session, and I would see her when I moved to San Diego. The diminutive June was, all by herself, the “Best Animated Short.”

When I returned to the room, Nancy asked, “Who were they?” Pretty funny. I told her, but I added that now I had an idea of what the voice of Florence Nightingale sounded like too.

– 30


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