Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: The “Secret Origin” of San Diego’s Comic-Con International
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.
This article originally appeared on Jim Hill Media in 2005. With the October 19th debut of San Diego Comic Fest, an event intended to bring back the original feel and spirit of Comic-Con in the 1970s, we thought it was a perfect occasion to revisit the origins of North America’s biggest celebration of comic books: Comic-Con International.
From July 14th through 17th , the city of San Diego will once again play host to Comic-Con International. Over the years, I’ve read and overheard a number of accounts relating how the annual event — once known as the “San Diego Comic-Con” — came into existence in the first place. Well, I was one of the small group of people who were there at the very start, and I’m one of the only remaining original organizers still involved with SoCal’s annual media-fest. So, to the best of my memory, here are the actual events — as I experienced them — which led to the formation of what has become the nation’s biggest annual geek-gathering of its type.
Growing up in San Diego, I was lucky enough to become friends with a few similarly-inclined young weirdos during my junior high and high school years in the 1960s. These included: Greg Bear (who’s since become a Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer); John Pound (who’s since become a well-known fantasy painter and humorous illustrator who’s created hundreds of images for Topps Cards’ infamous “Garbage Pail Kids” trading cards); and Roger Freedman (who’s since become an award-winning physics professor and textbook author who teaches college courses on “Science Fiction for Scientists”). Other members of our oddball gang were H.P. Lovecraft aficionado Dave Clark and actor and horror movie maven/actor “Bilzo” Richardson. Working together, we formed our own “Underground Film Society,” we published hand-lettered mimeographed fanzines with goofy titles like Worlds of Wow and Fan Attic and we occasionally ventured northward to Los Angeles for visits to Forrest J Ackerman’s fabled “Ackermansion”. There, we first met “big name” fans like Donald F. Glut and Bill and Beverly Warren, their names already familiar to us through Forry’s classic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. These contacts led to attending my first convention, BayCon, the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Berkeley, California. There, my pals Greg and Dave and I met fellow fans (some soon to become pros) like Larry Ivie, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Rob and Jeff Gluckson, and Keith Tucker. Remember, this was 1968 Berkeley; I can’t imagine a more mind-blowing introduction to fandom-at-large. And after BayCon 68, nothing seemed the same to our little fan contingent from San Diego.
Back in San Diego, we soon fell in with publisher/retailer Ken Krueger (an attendee of the very first “scientifiction” convention held in 1939, officially making him a member of the elite-if-obscure group known as “First Fandom”) and collectible book dealer John Hull. We formed our own sci-fi fan club, “The ProFanests” (the group consisted of pros and fans and we were certainly profane at times), quaffed beer and ate raw hamburger cocktails (don’t ask) and hung out at Ken’s flyblown Ocean Beach bookstore where we discussed the latest batch of “Ace Doubles” with the walk-in locals who frequented the place.
At that same time, I was working as a floor clerk at the newly opened B. Dalton, Bookseller retail store in San Diego’s then-newly-opened Fashion Valley shopping center. (To my impressionable eyes, it seemed like a very sophisticated bookshop; I was particularly fascinated by the shop’s window-display of a pyramid of paperbacks of Grove Press’ adaptation of the controversial, semi-pornographic Swedish art-film I Am Curious (Yellow).) One night, a fellow named Bob Sourke came in, looking for a then-current series of Prince Valiant reprints thinly disguised as children’s books. When he learned I was an aspiring cartoonist and general funnybook fiend, Bob invited me to a get-together of comic book fans he knew. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was always interested in meeting other people who loved comics and cartooning.
A few weeks later, I showed up for the informal meeting at a small apartment one Sunday afternoon. There, I met San Diego’s “other” fan group, which included: Shel Dorf (then in his mid-thirties and recently relocated from Detroit, where he was one of the organizers of its “Triple Fan Fair“), Richard Alf (a local teenager who was one of the first — and most successful — mail-order back-issue comics dealers), and other fans, including Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Barry Alfonso, and the aforementioned Bob Sourke. Shel was running a slideshow of Golden Age comic books covers. (I recall his expression of surprise when I, a mere teenage hippie, correctly identified a vintage cover as having been drawn by Bernard Baily.)
In 1969, Shel arranged trips for many of us to visit cartoonist Jack Kirby and his wife Roz at their home in Thousand Oaks, California. (The warmth, hospitality, generosity and interest that the Kirbys showed us cannot possibly be overstated; Jack mentored me over the next three decades, until his death in 1994.) That’s where we met Jack’s assistants (and my friends now for over three decades) Mark Evanier and Steve and Gary Sherman. During one visit, Jack even volunteered to give five of us — Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Roger Freedman, John Pound, Barry Alfonso and myself — cameo roles in an issue of one of the “Fourth World” comics he’d recently begun doing for DC. Sure enough, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen No. 144 (December, 1972) introduced “The San Diego Five-String Mob”, a rock band of evil assassins from the Darkseid-ruled planet, Apokolips, sent to Earth gunning for the Man Of Steel! (One of us, Barry Alfonso actually inspired two different Kirby creations: the Five-Stringers’ “Barri-Boy,” and later, “Klarion The Witchboy” in The Demon. Recently, Klarion received his own comic book series and the real Barry received a Grammy Award for his CD liner notes!)
By that time, most of my group of high school fan-friends, the ProFanests and Shel’s group had become amalgamated into the ever-growing social blob that was San Diego’s core of funnybook fandom. It wasn’t long before we decided to stage our very first one-day comic convention. (San Diego’s Mission Valley had already hosted the WesterCon science fiction convention a few years earlier.) We all eagerly agreed that a comic book convention was just what we — and San Diego — needed.
(Strangely enough, it never occurred to any of us that — since in those days, the majority of the talents involved in the comic book industry lived in or near New York City — San Diego was the perfect place to combine business and pleasure, and to take a tax-deductible family vacation, to boot!)
We plunged blindly ahead. Shel Dorf provided his list of professional contacts and potential guests, Richard Alf provided the vital seed-money for our initial operating expenses, and Ken Krueger provided his valuable savvy and know-how from a lifetime in fandom, conventions, publishing, and retail sales. The rest of us provided the raw enthusiasm to do whatever it took to get the con off the ground and running, if not flying. As for my role in the proceedings, I served as one of the first con’s five committee chairmen and designed the convention’s first logos and drew its advertising posters. I also hosted many of our early con-planning meetings on the patio at my parents’ house in the College Grove area. (Hey, I was only 17 or so at the time!)
Shel enlisted our first pro guests for both the March one-day mini-con and August’s first, full-blown, three-day “San Diego Comic-Con”: Forry Ackerman, Mike Royer, Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury, San Diego Evening Tribune editorial cartoonist Bob Stevens, and science fiction author A. E. Van Vogt. That first con, held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, was, for its day, a rousing success. (The U.S. Grant Hotel wasn’t the snazziest of venues, but it was the only one made available to us; in fact, no other hotel in town was willing to risk hosting an event that would garner such a low bar-attendance. Fortunately, we had Ken and Shel to sign the contract; the rest of us were under-age!) Other than young Jackie Estrada (now co-publisher of Exhibit A Press and administrator of the prestigious Eisner Awards), the only females attending the 300-attendee event were fans’ mothers!
My involvement with the convention continued. Its second year, saddled with the exhausting title of “The San Diego Golden State Comic-Con” (>Phew!<), the growing event was held on the campus of the University Of California At San Diego, and the one after that was hosted by the Sheraton Hotel located on San Diego’s Shelter Island. Then the con moved to downtown San Diego, with its exhibition hall at the Community Concourse, and with lodging and most of the programming at the nearby El Cortez Hotel (the swimming pool of which was often clouded with fan-dispensed shark repellant.) It was early during this period that the convention’s committee wisely voted to apply for a “not-for-profit” business status. Years later, the San Diego Comic-Con finally relocated to its current venue, San Diego’s ocean-side Convention Center. (In fact, this will be the first year in which the con estimated to have a total attendance near 100,000 people — will occupy the entire available space of the Convention Center; from now on, there’s nowhere to extend its domain — except upwards!) Now known as “Comic-Con International” (a name that oughtta keep San Diego’s tourist bureau in a continual state of cooperative fear), the little 300-person basement-gathering has grown, over the past thirty-seven years, into the United States’ largest event of its kind. In fact, it’s San Diego’s single biggest annual tourist event, its presence accompanied by a mind-blowing ballyhoo of TV and radio ads, street-banners and bus-posters.
Of course, the term “Comic-Con” doesn’t even begin to describe the diversity of SDCCI’s wall-to-wall programming. Aside from comic books, the convention’s schedule includes events devoted to contemporary comic books (and their creators), vintage comic books (and their creators), original artwork (from both categories), science fiction and fantasy literature, animation (both domestic and foreign), genre television shows, pulp magazines, weaponry (both real and faux), genre theatrical (and direct-to-DVD) films, role-playing games, action figures, vintage toys, old time radio shows, video games, glamour art, costumes — and, oh, I give up (in much the same way I’m now forced to give up my hopes of navigating the con’s entire exhibit hall.) Let’s just say that, if a topic is considered to be somewhat dispensable and silly in real life, chances are, it’s considered to be of primary importance at SDCCI.
Over the past thirty-seven years, some of my personal high points at the con have included: hosting the Inkpot Awards presentations, where I was able to shake the hands of so many notable creators; meeting cartoonists for the first time who would become some of my best friends, including Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Dan Nakrosis, Mike Kazaleh, Dave Thorne, William Stout, Bill Morrison, Batton Lash and Don Dougherty, among many others; performing on-stage during the con masquerade with “Raoul Duke And His All-Human Orchestra”; befriending Sam Glanzman, the artist behind one of my childhood’s favorite comic books, Dell’s Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle; presenting my Oddball Comics slideshow over the last four decades; and introducing our infant son Kirby to his namesake, Jack Kirby.
As for the low points? Being told, as an aspiring cartoonist, by Neal Adams to “give it up”? (Years later, he swears he was just kidding — and supposedly said the same thing to Frank Miller!) Getting physically threatened by a muscle-bound contestant who was furious that, while hosting the annual masquerade, I dared refer to his costume of the mighty Thor’s immortal enemy, the Destroyer as “the Michelin Man”? (Hey, he really did look like he was made out of radial tires!) Or perhaps it was facing an angry crowd of blood-donors who were misinformed that I’d do a complimentary drawing for each and every one of them? (For the life of me, I can’t possibly think of a less appropriate time or place to donate blood than at a funnybook convention.) Considering that I’ve attended every single day of every single San Diego Comic-Con — International and otherwise — that really ain’t such a bad track record.
(Y’know, William Shatner was right — I’ve really gotta get a life.)
As I look back at those early days of the Comic-Con and attempt to compare them to its current incarnation, I’m stymied — there’s really no comparison at all! As I mentioned, attendance is huge, and bigger with every coming year. (I understand that the staff of the world-famous San Diego Zoo is justifiably jealous, they no longer can boast having the town’s largest collection of exotic critters.) If comic book sales reflected this sort of public interest, the funnybook industry would be booming (which, by all counts — except those of the publishers’ PR flacks — definitely ain’t.) At times — usually on Saturdays — its exhibit hall’s aisles are jammed with shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian gridlock, and there’s “standing room only” for many of the con’s individual programs upstairs. The con’s also become surprisingly diverse, with Kevin Smith-lookalike males barely outnumbering the females. (Where, oh where were you when I was 19, single and desperate for the companionship of a cute girl-geek?) Even entire families visit the con; in fact, some of their kids have literally grown up there, attending every year of their young lives!) By now, Hollywood’s presence is unavoidable; it’s hard to walk a few yards without tripping over Angelina Jolie or Keanu Reeves or a full-scale model of the Millennium Falcon. In general, big business seems to exert amazing influence over the convention — why else would otherwise intelligent individuals stand in line for hours on end for the privilege of purchasing a special, limited “variant edition” of a Muppet toy? Among all of these conspicuous displays of marketing and branding, old comic books and their fans seem to have actually become something of a minority at this crowded “comic-con.” Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by all the Hollywood hype and corporate chest-beating, I can’t help but miss the heady days of the U.S. Grant’s moldering basement. But when I consider that Comic-Con International allows me the opportunity to reconnect with friends I’ve known for decades, at the world’s biggest “class reunion,” it’s easy to shrug off whatever misgivings I may foster regarding the con’s ever-mutating size and tone.
Still, there remain two aspects of the convention that haven’t changed an iota. Despite advancements in the field, convention-hall food is just as rotten and overpriced as ever. And, as before, approximately one out of every thirty convention-goers seems to allocate their personal budgets toward the purchase of comic books rather than items of personal hygiene. (One of these days, I’m gonna invent “collectible deodorant” and make a financial killing — while simultaneously earning the undying thanks of the other four-fifths of the crowd. But with my luck, the buyers will probably refuse to remove my collectible deodorants from their wrappers to actually use it so they can keep ‘em in minty-fresh mint condition!)
Due to the initial efforts of Richard, Shel, Ken and all of the others who worked on that first San Diego Comic-Con committee — as well as the hundreds of people who’ve served on all the San Diego con committees ever since then — Comic-Con International has become the biggest and best celebration of cartoonery in the United States. I’ll always be justifiably proud of the small part I had in its inception, over thirty-seven years ago.
So, who’s got a nice copy of DC’s Showcase No. 71 (November – December, 1967) — featuring “The Maniaks” and guest-starring Woody Allen — for sale, cheap?
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. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz. Scott will be a guest at the San Diego Comic Fest. And he finally found a nice copy of DC’s Showcase No. 71.
Guest-columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.
On Comics in the Classroom…
A Response to a Response to a Response…
By Anastasia Betts
First of all, welcome to all of you comics and teaching enthusiasts and enthusiasts-to-be alike! As a former teacher, administrator, curriculum developer, and comics lover I am thrilled to have been asked to contribute a column to The Comics Observer. You can count on my monthly column to shoot the breeze on any/all topics related to using comics, graphic novels, sequential art, etc. as tools for teaching in the classroom. Comics are a valuable resource for teachers in the classroom and I hope that this column will provide the space for dialogue and sharing of ideas.
That being said, you may be wondering about the very Inception like title for today’s post. By way of explanation, I will say that I am responding partly to Dylan Meconis, who in his online essay, “On Comics in the Classroom” was responding to the reporter Michael Cieply, who in turn was responding to comments made by a panelist (Lisa Vizcarra) during the most recent San Diego Comic Con panel on Comics in Education. I encourage you all to read Meconis’ argument, as it is smart, savvy, and insightful – and I do not want to spend valuable time repeating his solid ideas here. The quote that started all the responding, however, is here for your convenience:
“It’s frightening,” said Lisa Vizcarra, a science teacher at Carquinez Middle School in Crockett, Calif. Ms. Vizcarra, who seemed to set the day’s tone, was speaking to a Comic-Con audience about a looming pedagogical crisis: Students, distracted by video, are no longer responding to comics as an educational tool, even as schools increasingly use them in their curriculums.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, and that’s why we’re here today,” she told a room packed with teachers and other listeners…
Like Meconis, I couldn’t disagree more with Ms. Vizcarra’s position. Comics are more popular than ever with kids. And like Meconis, I agree that really the responsibility for solid and engaging instruction lays with the teacher, not the comic. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to choose comics and graphic novels that are sophisticated, engaging, and provide the meat needed for serious critical thinking to take place.
I won’t shy away from the fact that there are a lot of comics out there that are just plain bad, inappropriate, or that simply do not work well in the classroom environment. Some teachers, looking for the quick fix, or the “magic pill” to generate interest in their students, may be tempted to just “plug and play” the nearest graphic lit they can get their hands on. But, this is a teaching preparedness problem, not a comics problem.
I used to teach a “comics in the classroom” course for UCLA. As part of this course, my goal was to help teachers understand that they needed to personally and emotionally invest in the comics they taught, and give serious thought to how that comic would not only be integrated into their class content, but what learning objectives it was designed to meet. I cautioned teachers to never, ever, pick a comic based solely on the recommendation of a friend or colleague – even if that colleague was myself (their instructor). Doing so would only lead to chaos in the classroom. As Meconis points out, students are often far more sophisticated connoisseurs of graphic literature than most teaching newbies. That, and they can smell fear – nothing strikes fear in the heart of a teacher more than being cornered mid-discussion by students who know more about the subject matter, genre, or format than the supposed expert in the room.
Whenever I talk about using comics in the classroom, I frequently encounter teachers who are eager to share their use of comics. Unfortunately, these experiences with comics most often mean Maus or American Born Chinese – both excellent, award-winning books, not to mention personal favorites. But there are plenty of great graphic novels and comics out there, as good or better than Maus or ABC – that is, for the teacher willing to explore and immerse him or herself in the medium. Creating great comics related curriculum takes time, effort, creativity, and innovation.
There are numerous reasons to engage students in graphic or what I sometimes call visual literature – increasing visual literacy and critical thinking for a start. We live in a world where visual literacy is and will continue to be critical to the survival and success of future generations. Every day we are bombarded with images saturated with meaning: literal, figurative, and more and more often – subliminal. Humans, after all, are biologically wired for sight. The eyes are the most powerful conduit to the brain, boasting over 1,000,000 visual nerve fibers to a mere 30,000 auditory nerve fibers. Thirty percent of our brain is devoted to visual processing. And I’m not talking about processing text (which requires a totally different part of the brain) – I’m talking about images and pictures, movies, life…
Consider the power of images and icons. In a recent study on visual literacy, 22% of all US citizens surveyed could name ALL five family members of the popular animated show, The Simpsons. Conversely, only 0.1% could name all five freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. Perhaps if each family member wore a t-shirt with a freedom on it, we might remember? Of course I am being ridiculous – or am I? What if after exposing my students to the above statistic, I assigned them the task of renaming each Simpson family member with one of the five freedoms, and then providing a rationale for their choices rooted in their understanding of both the characters and the freedoms? What would Bart’s new name be? Freedom of Speech? I think I know a number of students who could make that argument. How about Homer, Lisa, Maggie, or Marge? For those teachers familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, I’d wager this assignment gets students working well into synthesis and evaluation, which is precisely where any teacher who cares about critical thinking wants students to be operating.
Chances are, if you are reading this column, you are already a fan of comics. If I am lucky, you may even be a classroom teacher. You may be a teacher who is already using comics in your classroom, and so you will have awesome comments to share about your experiences doing so. If I am really lucky, you are a comics lover and a teacher that never thought of merging the two. In that case, this column will be just the “aha” you have been looking for to energize your teaching.
As I said at the beginning, this column will largely be devoted to helping you get familiar with some comics/graphic lit that you may not have been aware of, as well as some tried, true, and not so conventional ideas for teaching those comics, graphic novels, and other visual mediums in your classroom. Oh, and sometimes we may even tackle a little research too…
So, the next time Ms. Vizcarra laments the state of comics in education, and asks, “I just don’t know what we are going to do…” all of you can answer – “Read The Comics Observer and you will know!”
Your Homework: If you haven’t already, read Dylan Meconis’ Blog “On Comics in the Classroom,” and comment on your own experience with using comics as a teaching tool!
Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.
Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
I’m writing this on the eve of my flight to California, where I’ll be attending my very first San Diego Comic-Con. For those of you who don’t know, SDCC is arguably the biggest comic convention in the world, an event that attracts not just all the big comic publishers, but also television and movie companies – all vying for the almighty nerd dollar.
But, with all the craziness that’s bound to ensue, my main goal for this trip is oddly simple: I just want to meet Jim Mahfood, and Chynna Clugston-Flores. Everyone and everything else, honestly, would just be gravy. Why these two artist/writers? Because they’re the ones who got me into Oni Press.
The real mainstream
That phrase – according to Wikipedia, originally “coined by Stephen Holland of the UK comic shop Page 45” – has been used to describe the kind of comics that this 15-year-old company produces. They’re, from what I understand, comics that are for people who can’t drop obscure facts about Marvel and DC’s superheroes.
I prefer to describe them as the kind of comics that I never knew I needed.
Food One for thought
Though he now publishes most of his creator-owned stuff through Image, Mahfood (otherwise known as Food One) was the first creator to bring my attention to that distinctive Japanese-styled demon-headed logo. I’ve mentioned before that I was quite the Kevin Smith fan way back when, so the Clerks comic that he did with Mahfood was my initial foray into Oni. From there, I picked up Food One’s Grrl Scouts series and pretty much anything else with his name on it.
People always talk about how they discovered the punk rock ethos while listening to The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or The Clash. I discovered it while reading Mahfood’s books. His stories are straightforward. His art is gorgeously dynamic, yet also wonderfully simple. But, most importantly, his comics had balls and they were fun.
In the late ’90s, the publisher had an anthology series called Oni Double Feature, a comic that I owe a great deal to. Aside from giving me more Mahfood (in the form of a two-part Zombie Kid story), it also introduced me to other gems from Oni – like Chynna Clugston-Flores’ Blue Monday.
Usually described as Archie with more sex and swearing, Blue Monday tapped into my love for good teen movies (a love that lasts till today, mind you). It was what would have happened if John Hughes became a comics creator instead of a filmmaker and I loved every panel. But more than anything else, it was the first of many comics that’d introduce me to some really awesome bands.
Chynna’s love for The Jam was what got me into the band in the first place. Her love for mod revival culture continued in her Scooter Girl mini-series, which till this day, remains one of my favorite comics ever (and not just because one of its main characters was supposedly based on Parker Posey).
And then there’s everything else
Oni’s output of quality books certainly extends beyond the works of these two creators. Off the top of my head, I can easily and happily recommend books like Jen Van Meter’s excellent Hopeless Savages (about an incredibly loveable and genuinely sweet punk rock family), Judd Winick’s Barry Ween: Boy Genius (think a potty mouthed Dexter’s Laboratory), Brian Wood and Steve Rolston’s punk rock romance-gone-bad dark comedy Pounded, Greg Rucka’s espionage epic Queen and Country, and – of course – Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series.
But Chynna and Jim were my firsts. Not only did their work lead me to all those other great books, but pushed me headfirst into the whole world of indie comics (beyond The Crow and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is).
Next time round
I mentioned a bit about how Blue Monday introduced me to The Jam. I’ll probably talk about more about the relationship between music and comics in the next edition. But for now, I’ve got some last minute packing to get done.
* I know, I know. That pun’s so cringe-worthy that it hurts. Look, it’s 3AM here and I’m too wired up about my flight to care.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much.
We break our normal Wednesday/Friday posting schedule for a special announcement:
Learn the ins and outs of this week’s San Diego Comic-Con (or Comic-Con International: San Diego, if you want to be formal about it) this Wednesday night at 8:30 PM Pacific, as Corey Blake appears as a guest on Beyond the Blurb, a live Google+ Hangout video conference hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins. For more information and to watch live.
Corey will also have a special editorial on Comic-Con later this week. A link will be posted once it goes live.
UPDATE: Slight change of plans. We went for a pre-taped studio interview. Here it is:
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 Comics‘ Woody 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.
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 Pool, If 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.
I saw my first Jack Kirby-drawn comic book story around then. It was either in DC Comics‘ Secret Origins No. 1 (featuring a reprint of approximately half of the origin of the Challengers of the Unknown) or Marvel Comics’ Tales 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.
If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.
These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:
To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:
And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:
For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.