Old friends...

It's a windy Sunday morning here on California's central coast. The sun is electric and the birdies are hopping from branch to branch in the trees and the cats are sitting on the window ledges soaking it up like Kitty TV. All six of our cats have lived their lives indoors. One or two of them long to go outside, but most are content to stay inside. We have a lot of rooms and stairs for them to race around and up and down for exercise.

My darling wife Valarie is off to work already. Her department is in the midst of a deadline crunch of titanic magnitude. They have a show in Anaheim on Tuesday and they have a ton of display stuff to get designed and printed and mounted and stuff. It feels like the pre comic book convention crunch from the old days.

Gosh, I don't miss setting up for conventions at all. Especially San Diego. I hate large crowds, for starters. The only good thing about going was seeing old friends I hadn’t seen since the year before.

The year we went with Majestic Comics wasn’t too bad. We were pretty well received and the signings and meet-and-greets were fun. I didn’t have to work the booth very much because Val and I brought Dakota with. She was around one or so and we bought a cool backpack baby carrier so I could carry her around up on my shoulders. With precious cargo on my back I had zero guilt in shoving stinky fanboys out of my way.

Years later when Val helped Glenn Danzig start up Verotik, San Diego was kind of fun because she had produced a big book of new pencil art by Frank Frazetta. No one had seen anything new from Frazetta for years, but Danzig had coaxed him out of hiding and produced a line of comics based on some of his characters like the Death Dealer. This was the first year for Verotik and Val and Danzig fought like cats and dogs over what to do for the booth. We were living outside of Sacramento at the time and there was a great little company that made convention displays, but Danzig wanted to do something different.

Val’s brother Mike was living near us at the time, and working with Val and Verotik, so it came down to him building a big wooden framework wall that could be broken down into manageable components. What Danzig wanted was for us to drape a massive black tarp that someone had made for one of his music videos over the wooden frame. The tarp turned out to be pretty cool. It had some big skulls airbrushed on it and a lot of mist and goth crap.

Valarie and Dakota flew down to San Diego while Mike and I rented a truck and drove the wooden framework and other convention stuff down. It was a great drive and we wound up getting a pretty nice tour of Hollywood and the surrounding communities while trying to find Danzig’s house. Meeting him was a hoot. I’d only seen him before in his videos, and he was this big bodybuilder guy with a tangle of black hair and he looked like he could bite your head off if you pissed him off. It turned out that he guy is only four feet tall, or so. I guess they always shot him I his videos with the camera down low looking up. In person he was this meek little shrimp with a buttload of muscles. So we get the tarp from him, shoot down to San Diego and set up. Goth was nowhere near as popular back then as it is now, so Val and I had a hard time finding cool stuff to decorate the booth with. We did find a medical supply house that had really cool resin skulls. We bought a bunch to decorate the table with.

With the framework up and the tarp draped over it, the booth looked a little hinky, but it did the job. Besides, people were a whole lot more interested in what we had for sale. The Frazetta sketch books arrived just in the nick of time, and at only twenty bucks a pop they sold as fast as we could get them out of the boxes. One memorable moment happened when Val’s brother called me over and told me that he had a customer that wanted to buy a couple of the books but he wanted to pay with a Visa card. Verotik was so new that we weren’t set up to accept plastic. The guy wanting to buy the books had a likeable demeanor. He was a thin fellow with white hair and beard, and was wearing a fair amount of turquoise jewelry. I started to apologize and hand his card back, but I happened to look at the name on it. It read, Boris Vallego. How cool was that? It was like Bill Sienkiewicz buying a book of artwork by Bob Peak. I handed Boris his credit card back along with the two Frazetta sketch books and told him it would be my pleasure for him to accept them as a gift. He thanked me with a warm smile and a hearty handshake.

I think the absolutely best time I had at a San Diego convention was back in the very early 90s when I went with Eclipse Comics. Val and I had left First Comics in Chicago about a month before they closed their doors and fired everyone. Val took a job editing at Eclipse, and I came along just to keep her company. This was back when we were just roommates. By day I worked in the Eclipse warehouse, doing a lot of mail order fulfillment, and at night I wrote stories and scripts that I couldn’t sell. When the convention came up we filled a truck and a van with as many comics as they would hold, packed in as many people as would fit, and made the drive. I piloted the van on the way down. We climbed the grapevine and had to make a number of stops because the van kept overheating.

We probably had a dozen tables at the convention and probably a hundred long boxes of comics. Some comic shops simply didn’t carry Eclipse comics so the fans were always glad to be able to load up on books at conventions. We sold hundreds and hundreds of issues of Miracleman (I wish I’d bought a bundle back when they were going for a buck a piece) and the Hobbit books were selling fast as well. Bob Kane came by the table for a signing and he turned out to be a bit of a jackass. Our big guest of the show was Clive Barker. Eclipse was adapting a lot of his work and we had lines of fans wrapped around the tables to meet him and get autographs. Barker was an outstanding man. He was patient, funny as hell, and really gracious under pressure.

The Eclipse booth was busy nonstop, but Dean Mullaney was very cool about making sure that everyone had enough time to cool down and eat and walk around the show. He wasn’t stingy with money, making sure that everyone had enough cash to buy food and drinks. Cat and Dean were very trustworthy. I remember taking a bathroom break, sitting in a stall, and realizing that I had three or four hundred dollars of Eclipse money in my jeans pockets. But you couldn’t steal from someone like Dean Mullaney. He was just too cool of a guy. After the convention was over, it was an Eclipse tradition to stop at Disneyland on the way home. Cat and Dean paid our way in and made sure we had enough spending money to buy all the Mickey Burgers and Carnation ice cream we could hold. If you knew them, and saw their quasi bohemian, hippy-like day-to-day existence, you wouldn’t think they’d be a fan of Disneyland, but I think they enjoyed themselves more than us kids did.

So here it is a windy Sunday morning. My wife is at work, my daughter was up all night drawing her latest comic book, so she’s sleeping in, and my back and hip are hurting me like a sun of a bitch. Luckily I have a couple of old friends to keep me company.

Val had to work yesterday (Saturday), so Dakota and I drove her in to keep her company and attempt to help her. Dakota wound up drawing and going online, and I helped Val find a little bit of reference before I wound up taking a nap on the couch. On the way home we stopped at the bookstore so Val could hunt up some photo reference she needed, and I was lucky enough to find two new paperbacks (I only buy hardcovers when I’m flush—which I’m not at the moment) by two of my favorite authors.

If you enjoy reading good crime suspense drama, you’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t read Lawrence Block and Robert B. Parker. These guys are two of the best. Don’t be put off by Parker because of the Spenser television series. The t.v. show never came anywhere near the core of what and who Spenser really is. Trust me.

If you’re already a Spenser fan and you’re looking for someone new to read, try Robert Crais. He started out as a bit of a Robert Parker clone, but he’s continued to grow. His latest book, The Two Minute Rule, shows that he’s getting better and better. Give one of his Elvis Cole mysteries a spin.

Hey! I’m going to put on my reading spectacles and get busy. I hope everyone enjoys their Sunday.

It could be worse. It could be raining.


Tony Akins said...

Great blog. I remember those days; just from a different location. Wow, only four feet tall? They animated him so much taller on that episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force; he still seemed like a badass, though.

Fred Schiller said...

Well, he could have been closer to five feet, but he was still a shimp and not a giant like us. All of his posse seemed to be selected for their height, so no one would tower over him.

In addition to bodybuilding he was also into the martial arts. When were sitting behind the both at that San Diego convention he asked me if I had been in many fights in my life. I didn't know where he was headed with this, but I told him that no, I hadn't. Danzig confided that the first time someone really slugs you in the face you start to cry like a little girl. I commented that this was an interesting fact. He continued that if you want to survive if you ever get into a real fight is to have some hit you in the face enough times that you stop crying as a first response.

I felt like crying myself at this point, but luckily one of his gothy fans showed up at the table and asked Danzig to autograph his scrotum or some other body part.

There was a weird trend way-back when that involved fans getting celebrities to sign their body parts (mostly ladies getting their boobs autographed) and then said fan would go out that night to get the autograph tattooed on for keeps. They would then return to the convention the following day and show said celebrity. I saw this happen with Danzig and a lot with Clive Barker. (I don't know if it was common knowledge back then that Barker was gay. I wonder if it was if those ladies would have had second thoughts.) Anyway, I wonder with the acceptance of tattoos at an all time high if more and more fans are doing this? I saw a fellow who had a collection of Weird Al tattoos on his body, but I think he was just mentally unstable.

Do fans ask Frank Miller to do a Batman sketch on their lower back so they can race over to TattooYou to have it made forever?

I've been thinking a lot about comic conventions lately and I remember how frustrating it was attending one as a fan. If you bought a model or poster or something awkward, it was a major drag to carry it around with you. If you drove you could always schlep it out to the car. I remember an early Chicago con when it was still downtown. I rode the IC and by the time I got home my stuff was all mangled. I guess it's better if you're from out of town and you can cart stuff up to your room, but then you have to deal with how to fit your autographed Luke Skywalker stand-up into the overhead compartment on the plane.

Oh, and from the department of better late than never, last night Val looked through the Comico pages you have posted. She both oooh and ahhh sounds. She's always been one of your biggest fans. She still considers it the crime of the century (the last one) that she couldn't get you a regular gig at Ecllipse. Everyone in the office dug your stuff except for Cat, and back then that was enough.

Cat Yrondwode taught me more about writing, comics and everything else, than just about anyone on the planet. Perhaps it was from all the years she worked with Will Eisner. Val agrees that she was an astounding editor. We both hold her in great distain for a variety of other reasons, but the woman knew her way about a red Pilot.

Tony Akins said...

Ah, yes...the celebrity "scrot-tag". I believe Peggy Lee was the originator of that. I'll try to avoid getting punched in the face. I knew Cat Y had secretly foiled my attempts at Eclipse! Who was that time travelling Az...oh, yeah "Aztec Ace"! "One Mile Up", too. Right? I have to tell you, Fred. My editor, Shelly Bond (formerly, Roeberg), was a HUGE fan of RUST. She wigged when she found out that I had worked on the book. Ah, the days...