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Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: How I Became a Comic Book Reader, a Comic Book Collector…

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

How I Became A Comic Book Reader, A Comic Book Collector, A Comic Book Fanboy, A Comic Book Convention Organizer, A Comic Book Character, An Underground Comix Book Creator, A Comic Book Cosplayer, A Comic Book Retailer, A Comic Book Professional… And A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!

I was born in 1951. I assume it wasn’t with an overly moist funnybook clutched in one of my tiny pink fists, but with me, you never know.

Approximately three years later, I began to teach myself how to read using comic books. Their mysterious combinations of words and pictures proved irresistible to me, and I became determined to unlock their delicious secret.  Somehow, I vaguely remember an issue of Dell ComicsWoody Woodpecker was responsible for my big breakthrough moment.

Now I was a comic book reader.

My childhood occurred roughly during child psychologist and author (Seduction of the Innocent, 1953) Dr. Fredric Wertham’s war on comic books. His theory was that comic books caused juvenile delinquency because every juvenile delinquent he’d ever interviewed had read comic books. (By that reasoning, milk also caused juvenile delinquency!) Decades later, I asked my elderly mother why they bought me so many “funnybooks” in such times, but her only response was, “They seemed to be really important to you.” Yep, that’s me, all right, then and now.

CBS Television Presents Tom Terrific!

Not long after I turned five, I was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy, a childhood rite of passage in those days. It meant that, for at least three or four days (and scary nights), I was away from my parents and my home in a children’s ward with dozens of  young strangers. The only good things about the rather traumatic experience were all the ice cream and the huge pile of funnybooks that my folks brought me. I still remember a few of the titles in that tower of pulp: Dennis the Menace, Mighty Mouse, Zippy the Chimp, Tom Terrific, Captain Kangaroo (strange, to my knowledge, my parents were never stockholders in CBS); and my first-ever “realistic” comic book, an issue of Superboy, cover-featuring “The One-Man Baseball Team!,” probably the first and last time I ever cared much about sports. One thing was certain; I’d never received so many new funnybooks at the same time in my young life. Soon, I owned a lot of funnybooks, so many, in fact, that I had to sort them into small stacks: funny ones featuring comic strip and animated cartoon characters; exciting ones featuring Superman and Batman and Congorilla and, of course, the scary yet cool ones featuring lots of monsters! That’s when I realized I was not just a comic book reader.

Now I was a comic book reader and a comic book collector.

Early on, I decided that I wanted to be a cartoonist, primarily due to the influences of Dr. Seuss (The King’s Stilts, McElligot’s PoolIf I Ran the Zoo), Jay Ward (Rocky and His Friends), William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Ruff and Reddy, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) — and from comic books, Sam Glanzman’s Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle and George Gladir and Orlando Busino’s Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats.

Tales of Suspense by Jack Kirby

I saw my first Jack Kirby-drawn comic book story around then. It was either in DC ComicsSecret Origins No. 1 (featuring a reprint of approximately half of the origin of the Challengers of the Unknown) or Marvel ComicsTales of Suspense No. 11. (If it was the latter, my mother made me put it back on the rack because she thought the story “I Created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die!” looked like it would give me nightmares and instructed me to purchase a nice and safe Space Mouse funnybook instead. (Decades later, I got revenge on her by naming her only grandson after the cartoonist who drew “Sporr”!)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I loved many four-color gems of the Silver Age of Comic Books, many of which featured dinosaurs and/or talking purple gorillas on their front covers. I’m sure that this was when my tastes in Oddball Comics began to develop.

In the middle of 1961, I saw most comics go from a dime to 12¢, except for Dell Comics, which jumped to 15¢. The moment when I was told that I was a nickel short of the cover price of the latest issue of Daffy Duck was one of the most traumatic events of my young life. And even though DC Comics published on the inside of the front cover of all of their comics a full-page apology/explanation for their price hike to 12¢, my ability to perform mental mathematics has never been the same.

In 1964, I had my first letter to a comic book editor published; it was in DC’s Challengers of the Unknown No. 40 and I was suggesting a sequel to issue No. 35’s “War Against the Moon-Beast”. I even sent editor Murray Boltinoff a color sketch of a revived version of that ol’ moon-beastie that was more than slightly influenced by the makeup in the 1958 monster movie, War of the Colossal Beast. (Geez, was I a nerd, or what?) That same year, I finally jumped on board with the early Marvel superheroes a little more than two years into their existence. My first purchase was Fantastic Four No. 29 and that entire run of issues by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee on FF has remained my favorite superhero comic book series ever since.

I was lucky to attend junior high and high school with a surprising number of fellow geeks, weirdos and nerds, many of whom followed their instincts to become writers, artists, scientists and booksellers. In 1968, two of those friends and I attended my first fan convention, the 26th annual World Science Fiction Convention, AKA WorldCon and BayCon, in Berkeley, California. Being surrounded by nearly 1,500 oddballs that shared my interests and outlook was a transforming experience, to say the least.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector and a comic book fanboy.

Feds 'n' Heads by Gilbert Shelton

Later that year, I bought my first underground comix in 1968, Gilbert Shelton’s Feds ‘n’ Heads. I had already loved Gilbert’s “Wonder Wart-Hog” in Shelton’s Help! and Drag Cartoons, and the short-lived Wonder Wart-Hog Magazine, but I found his “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” to be even funnier, with some of the best timing on the printed page ever seen in funnybooks. Joining Jack Kirby, Gilbert Shelton became my second primary inspiration as an aspiring cartoonist.

Along with some of my high school buddies and some other fans, I was one of the kids who organized the first San Diego Mini-Con in March, 1970. This directly led to the San Diego Comic-Con in August, 1970. Over the next few years, my involvement with what would eventually grow to become San Diego’s Comic-Con International, I met dozens of fans, retailers and professional writers, artists and editors, many of whom are still my friends. In fact, more than 43 years after that first mini-con, I’ve attended every day of every year of the San Diego Comic-Con and proud of it. I’ve really got to get a life.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy and a comic book convention organizer.

I met Jack Kirby in 1971. He seemed pleased when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. Not “artist”, “cartoonist”. Almost immediately, Jack offered to transform my friends and I into characters in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen No. 144 (December, 1971); we became “The San Diego Five String Mob,” assassins disguised as a rock band, summoned from Apokolips to Earth on a mission to bump off Superman.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer and a comic book character.

Gory Stories Quarterly with Scott Shaw!'s The Turd

My first professional sale to a comic book was “The Turd” in Ken Krueger’s Gory Stories Quarterly No. 2 ½, published by Shroud Press in 1972. Ken was a longtime fan, retailer and publisher, as well as being one of Comic-Con’s founders, but he was also willing to pay me – a kid whose cartoons had only appeared in school newspapers and fanzines – for my story about a sewer monster made of living feces.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character and an underground comix book creator.

In the summer of 1972, I attended the 30th annual WorldCon in Los Angeles. There, I was awarded a special award for a masquerade costume I made out of eighteen pounds of peanut butter, based on my character, “The Turd”.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator and a comic book cosplayer.

In 1975, I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, where I became the manager of the comic book store American Comic Book Company in Studio City. I even set up my art studio in one the shop’s back rooms, so I could create new comic book stories when I wasn’t selling old ones.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer and a comic book retailer.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw!

The next year, I met Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas at the ACBC, and he asked me to write and draw a back-up story for Marvel’s What If? No. 8, “What If the Spider Had Been Bitten By a Radioactive Human?” (My late, great friend Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer, helped me out on a few panels; the difference between our styles is obvious.) This eventually led to Roy and I co-creating Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! for DC Comics a few years later… and surprisingly, it didn’t hurt Dave’s career a bit.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer, a comic book retailer and a comic book professional… and I’ve worked as the latter for more than forty years now, on an assortment of characters for a variety of publishers.

So why have I gone to the trouble of informing you of my history in the wacky world of funnybooks? Well, when my friend Corey Blake asked me to contribute a regular column for The Comics Observer, it occurred to me, “Why not? I’ve already done everything else related to comic books!”

I suppose this is just my way of letting you know that, although my  new column here “Confessions Of A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!” will be a forum for me to rant, rave, observe and criticize the art and business of comic books, it won’t come from an uninformed opinion.

After all, I’ve earned the right to be a crazy old coot, dammit.

I’ll see all of you back here next month for some of that ranting and raving I promised.

– SS!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist is © 2012 Scott Shaw!

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