Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Geek Memories: Conventions, Part 2!

So last time around, I talked about my first several conventions, which were mostly Sci-Fi cons, and promised that I'd follow up this time with my first (and only) San Diego Comic-Con! It was 1986, and I was a year and a half away from getting out of the Navy. I was assigned to the USS Constellation, based out of San Diego, and this was the only time it was going to be in port during the convention. My then-best friend, Mark Grochowicz, went with me to the convention.

SDCC was a huge convention even then, but it was still possible for anyone to get in without buying tickets nine months in advance. Since we were both in the Navy, we had no need to get a hotel, so all we needed money for was food and whatever we wanted to buy while we were there.

I had a couple of goals for this convention: The first one was to go to Artist's Alley and get some comics pros to draw pictures of my own characters, because I wanted to see how they'd look as drawn by pros. I've told some of this story before, so bear with me. Jan Duursema and Tom Mandrake were two of the first artists I approached. Jan first drew Nightstar (you'll see her drawing later this month), and then later LaserAvenger (who you saw a few months back), while Tom did Nightfighter (again, you've seen his drawing here before) as well as Electron, who was a creation of Mark's. They were truly wonderful to deal with, and gave me much more than I expected, including praise for my costume designs.

Another surprise was Mike Gustovich, who was drawing Justice Machine at the time. I got him to draw Battlestar, an armored superhero, and he did a fantastic job. All three of those artists did pencils as well as inks. Richard Howell was on my list of artists to draw specific characters (he was doing Hawkman at the time, which was written by future buddy Tony Isabella), and I had him do a drawing of Avian (who will come up in "My Characters" sooner or later).

And then there's Howard Chaykin. Now, I like Chaykin's comic art... it's nicely stylized, can't be mistaken for anyone else's work. I was a fan of American Flagg! at the time, but had fond memories of reading his Dominic Fortune stories for Marvel. Since I envisioned the Ace as being a swashbuckler type, I thought he'd be a natural. As with the other artists, I provided him with a drawing I'd done of the character in costume, and his reaction was, "You want me to draw that?!?" In hindsight, I should've just said, "On second thought, no," and spent my money elsewhere. As you saw when I wrote about The Ace, he did indeed do a drawing, but it was probably the sketchiest drawing I'd ever seen. It cost me about $25, which seems like a great deal now, but back then, that was a fair chunk of change!

Another goal of mine was to purchase a page of original comic book art. You see, it was the black and white boom, and parody/humor books were doing well. Mark and I had been working on a humor/parody book called Universal Comics and Stories (a name we would've never gotten away with, now that I think of it). The story revolved around a sentient cosmic cloud called The Universal, created by another buddy of ours, Henry Elling. While the Universal had great power, he did not have great responsibility, and he tended to use his powers to make people's lives miserable by giving them what they thought they wanted, but then turning around and making things turn out differently than expected.

All me to continue to digress a bit longer here, because I've not written about any of this before, and the memories are flooding back. We first worked on some of these ideas around 1979-1981, while we were in high school. All three of us did something or other in the creation of several characters which the Universal got involved with. One of them was Universal Man, whose powers were nebulously defined. When he flew he had a sparkly light trail like Marvel's Captain Marvel, but that's about all I recall of him. Next was Parts Man, whose power was to break up his body into separate parts, like the 1960s short-lived android Captain Marvel. He would yell "Break Up!" when he wanted to break up. He could fly thanks to these oversized headpieces that resembled Galactus', but if he broke up while flying, he'd fall to the ground, because he lacked stability. Next was Power Guy, and he was a parody of the original Captain Marvel. His costume basically resembled Cap's, but with a stylized "PG" on his chest, with lightning bolts as appropriate on the letters.

All the stories we'd previously done of those characters were anywhere from four to six pages long. When Mark and I decided to self-publish, we brought in all those guys, as well as some new characters. There first were the PlasTech Warriors, parodies of the Transformers and the like, with names like Trukk and Copp-Torr, and the Universal decided to manipulate things so that the toy company who made those toys would produce a set of full-size versions of them, which the Universal would then use his powers to bring to life.

And then there was Sgt. Furry and his Howling Commandogs. This was the first straightforward parody of specific characters, although much of it was purely punning versions of the character's names, and bringing all the Fury-related stuff into animal forms. The idea here was that in World War II, a top-secret facility managed to successfully evolve dogs into intelligent beings to use as special soldiers. Shortly after Sgt. Furry and his group started in action, the Axis responded in kind... and after the war, two enemy animal forces were out there: Hydrant and the Yellow Paw. You can probably figure out where I was going from there. Since these enemy forces stayed in hiding, biding their time, Furry and his Commandogs went into suspended animation, being revived when Hydrant made themselves known. However today, instead of being military, in this modern age Furry was put in charge of a new top-secret organization called H.E.E.L.E.D., and were joined by some modern-day evolved dogs, among them Jasper Sitboy and the Contessa Allegrollover. I don't recall how I was going to fit them into the storyline.

A previous creation I decided to bring in to all this was Captain Charisma and Lt. Likeable, which were basically spoofs on the 1966 Batman, but without the bat-elements at all. I don't recall the Captain's secret ID these days, but I do recall that his partner was usually referred to simply as his ward, Burt (see what I did there?).

I'd also planned on doing a whole kid superhero team thing... I don't recall the name of the group now, but it was going to work out as a combination of Teen Titans, X-Men, and the kid gangs of the golden age of comics. One of the group members was an alien girl with light powers called Corona, and another was a spunky 13-year-old girl gymnast who was less than bright who called herself Kitten Kaboodle. Other members were going to include two kids I was introducing in the first few issues, Brainy (the typical super-intelligent kid character) and Tubby (the generic fat kid), among others. Eventually, the adult heroes were going to form a team, and there'd be that team, the kid gang, the PlasTechs, and H.E.E.L.E.D., and probably anyone else I came up with by that point, for the ultimate crossover series that would take place in one single comic book, the "Can't Anybody Keep a Secret? Wars."

Anyway, in preparation for that, I wanted to get a page of original comic art so we'd have a good idea of how big to make the lettering, as well as appropriate page size and borders. Desktop publishing was still just getting started at this point. And just to cap off this digression, I was writing and penciling the book, while Mark was inking and lettering. Despite what might appear to be the larger workload, I was getting further and further ahead of Mark as we went, spending several weekends working on it in a hotel room before we abandoned the project, because we could see that financially it would've been a great burden on us.

We ended up picking up a Ghost Rider page that only had Johnny Blaze on it, not GR himself. This was before the Marvel Try-Out Book came out, and I only paid $8 for the page anyway (I have no idea what happened to this page, by the way... I keep half-expecting it'll turn up some day).

At the convention... well, I was blown away. We went through the program book, and decided we had to attend the Batman movie panel (the Michael Keaton film was still a few years off at this point), and also a Spider-Man movie panel (even further off in the future, although it was promised that Uncle Ben would get to die on-camera). We also attended a panel headed by Mark Evanier on how to break into comics as a writer... but before that, something else occurred.

We attended a panel that Jim Shooter was on. At the time, Shooter was editor-in-chief at Marvel, and I was really hoping to break in as a comic book writer at the time (yes, even while I planned to self-publish). I'd worked up an idea for a Nova mini-series (mini-series were doing well at the time, especially for characters without a book), and after that panel, I cornered Shooter and talked to him about breaking in to comics. I handed him a copy of my proposal, and he promised to get back to me. Well, it was later that day that Evanier's panel occurred, and I learned then I did the absolute wrong thing by handing Shooter my proposal at the convention! Oh well, live and learn.

I also managed to all-too-briefly meet Jack Kirby there. Back then, Kirby and other comics pros could just walk around the convention, and meet their fans as they happened to run into them. Kirby was talking to Shooter at the time, but I did interrupt them to very briefly tell Jack how big a fan I was. I dearly wish I'd asked Jack if there was a time and place I could have a few more minutes with him, because he was and remains my favorite comic book artist of all time.

The convention was an experience and a half.  One of the most amazing things was walking by people and then realizing a moment or two later who that was! I'm talking guys like Ray Bradbury and Julie Schwartz here! When I realize how many chances I'd missed to talk to some of those guys, I could shoot myself!

Another highlight of the convention was going to the costume contest, which was a lot of fun. We didn't dress up, but we did enjoy checking out the costumes, with a performance by a group (perhaps it was Seduction of the Innocent, but I don't recall specifically now) who performed parody versions of pop songs with a geek flavor to them, such as taking the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" and turning it into a song about Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

It was an amazing experience, and to be honest, it's probably still my favorite convention experience of all time, even though I had some great experiences to come in the future. But first, I had to get out of the Navy, and then it was time to go to conventions back in the Tacoma-Seattle area... although there'd be a twist to the next batch, which I'll write about next time!

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