Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Strange Tales – San Diego Comic-Con Memories

West and Woody


At the 1980 Comic-Con I met Adam West.

I was a judge for the costume contest. Judges sat in a marked-off section of the front row. I arrived early. I’m almost always early for everything.

As the audience was streaming into the auditorium, a little girl came wandering down the aisle. I’m not good at guessing kids’ ages, but she couldn’t have been more than seven. All the seats near the front were already filled except for two judges’ seats next to me.

The little girl asked me if she could sit in one of the seats. I said that those seats belonged to two other judges who would probably show up soon, but she could sit there until they did.

I asked her name, which I forget, sorry, and where her parents were. She said her parents couldn’t come because they had to take care of their table in the dealers’ room until the room was locked up. But she wanted to see the costumes.

I asked if they knew where she was. No.

I didn’t know what to do. Maybe call one of the Con staffers to take her back to the dealers’ room? That seemed cruel. All she wanted to do was watch the show.

Then the official occupants of the two empty seats showed up, Adam West and his wife. Marcie, I think? Again, sorry about names slipping away….

I introduced myself and quickly explained the situation.

Adam and his wife took over. They summoned a Con staffer, had another chair brought for the little girl and, I think, had word sent to the parents that all was okay.

So, the little girl sat with Adam West and his wife, just in front of them in her own little row in front of the front row. They were the best baby sitters ever. No child at that show was better cared for or better attended. She had a ball.

I don’t think she had any idea who Adam and his wife were, or who any of us were for that matter.

That was great. I got to talk with Adam and his wife a little, before, during and after the costume contest. They were/are the nicest, most interesting, best people you could ever meet.

After the contest, the little girl was safely escorted back to mom and dad.

Later, the next evening, I think, I attended the banquet. To my pleasant surprise, Adam West and his wife were seated next to me, on my left—and Wally Wood was on my right!

Talk about best seat in the house….

I had worked with Woody twice back in the 1960’s on Captain Action #1-2, but that was long distance, through the mail. Years later, while working at Marvel, I had met Woody and seen him briefly several times at the office and maybe once at Continuity Studios. He did a little bit of work for Marvel. Or, at least, his studio did. At that point in his life, his assistants did most of the work. Still, anything he touched had that unmistakable style. What a brilliant, amazing artist.

I had a great time talking again with Adam, Marcie (?) and Woody.

My respect for Adam and his wife only grew. First of all, I was impressed and thrilled that they remembered my name. And, the more we talked the clearer it became just how smart, informed, insightful and thoughtful they both were. And nice. Yes, I covered that above, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Gracious. Genuine. Finest-kind people.

Woody spoke less, but displayed flashes of his famous acerbic wit. We talked about anything but comics, except for what was happening there at the banquet right in front of us. They were giving awards, I guess. I really wasn’t paying much attention. Sorry.

Woody seemed to be hurting. In pain the whole time.

His skin looked gray. It was hot as hell in that hall, but Woody had on several layers—a tee shirt, a collared shirt over that and a flannel shirt over that.

I turned to say something to Adam at one point and when I looked back, Woody was gone.

He came back in a little while with a coat on. He said, exactly, “I’m freezing, man.”

That’s not good.

Anyway….

Like I said, we had a great time. And I got to thank Woody again for giving me my first splash page credit on page one of Captain Action #1, which he drew and inked from my layouts and script.

What a night. Lifetime highlight reel stuff. Once and done, gone forever, except in memory.

I haven’t seen Adam or his wife since. Woody died a year or so later by his own hand.


NEXT: More Strange Tales

30 comments:

pete doree said...

And you didn't get anybody to take a picture, Jim?! Sheesh!
Woody was the first comic artist whose work I ever fell in love with, when I saw a british black & white reprint with his first Daredevil story back in 1972. What an incredible artist.

Pastrami said...

Quick internet search says Marcelle Tagard Lear, so I'd go with Marcie. Great story. It would be neat to find that girl and have her describe her experience.

demoncat said...

nice story for it proves how cool Adam west is for willing to with his wife baby sit a little girl who just wanted to see the show back then. though sad that the award ceramony with Woody turned out to be one of the last events Woody would intend . too bad you did not take pictures jim for that was history right there. adam west and Woody together in one place

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Great to hear that Adam West is a good guy in real life. I got that impression from his autobiography, but it's reassuring to hear a first-hand report.

Did you tell him that you almost wrote a Batman script for him?

Glad you got to thank Woody again. Not so glad that he felt cold in such heat. Poor guy. He is still missed after thirty years.

kintounkal said...

Pastrami,

I agree. Hearing this story from the little girl's point of view would be cute. When this website was created, I wondered if any of the kids chosen to become Good Guys might join in the discussions. Surely, one of those eight winners must be reading this blog. I doubt I'm the only DEFIANT fan who would be excited to see a post from Spellcaster and company.

I managed to get Adam West's autograph once back in 1989 when he visited Calgary, Edmonton. To coincide with his appearance, the 1966 Batman movie was shown on the big screen. That film gets even funnier as time goes on. Who can forget the part where Commissioner Gordon acts appalled when Catwoman suggests Batman and Robin are "are like the masked vigilantes in the Westerns". According to Gordon, "Batman and Robin are fully deputized agents of the law." How exactly would that work since the movie makes it clear Wayne kept his identity a secret from Chief O'Hara?

William said...

Great story, as always, Jim. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I always liked Adam West, though I never met him, I grew up watching him as Batman. When I was a kid, I didn't realize that show was supposed to be a semi-comedy. I always thought it was high drama and serious action adventure back then. But now that I'm older, I appreciate the sometimes subtle and sophisticated humor it delivered. I'm glad that today Mr. West has attained the immortal pop-culture icon status he so richly deserves.

As for Wally Wood (Woody), he was (and is) one of my all time favorite artists. His all to brief stint on Daredevil stands as one of the very finest examples of the craft, IMHO. Woody could render perfect anatomy with a slick cartoon style like no one else before or since. There was truly something magical about comic artwork like his (and Kirby, Ditko, Toth and etc.) that seems to have been lost over the years. Today it's all about gimmicks like computer coloring and photoshop effects. Woody could bring characters to life and make them jump off the page with nothing but a pencil and some ink. I really do miss the style and craftsmanship of the great cartoonists.

You did indeed have the best seat in house that night.

Oscar Solis said...

William, you said it right. I love the comic book medium but I'm afraid I'm not a fan of most of what the Big 2 are putting out today. I picked up a book and it looked like someone had taken photographs and run them through a photoshop filter. The storytelling isn't all that great either. A well told comic story should be understandable to non-comic book readers. By that I mean the flow from panel to panel should be easy to follow without exception. Steranko, for all his effects, knew which panel the reader should go to next.

I love to look at the storytelling chops of guys like Herb Trimpe, Don Perlin, Windsor-Smith. Both Romita's are high on my list (in fact I consider Romita, Jr. one of the best storytellers ever). And of course Kirby, Ditko and Toth.

The six panel grid is seen as a drag to a lot of artists but Kirby, Ditko and Toth never had a problem telling their stories within that grid. Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo pretty much uses that grid with variations, successfully I might add.

Storytelling seems to be an also ran in today's comics. Thank goodness for artists like Darwyn Cooke and Sean Phillips. They know the score.

Jim- I'd like to know what your assessment of the art of storytelling in comics today is.

Sorry for the long windedness, but this most basic of comic's function tends to get shortchanged in today's publications.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

Yes, I mentioned the chance I almost had to write an episode.

Woody must have had some major poor circulation problems. Yes, he is missed. Irreplaceable.

jimshooter said...

Dear czeskleba,

My two cents: It would have taken John longer to copy, swipe or trace a figure than draw it unaided. He was that good, and that fast.

William said...

Thanks Oscar. I totally agree with you as well.

Comic book storytelling seems to be a dying art-form. It seems the people in charge of the industry are embarrassed by comics. It's like they are trying to make them into movies or novels, or whatever. I'm really tired of the industry apologizing for being what it is. I mean look at "Comic" Con. I was watching a overview of this years SDCC on G4 and they hardly even mentioned comics at all. It's all about TV and movies now. Most of which aren't even comic related. For example the hosts did interviews with the "Mythbuster" guys, the cast of the sit-com "Community" and the actor from the TV show "Castle", to name just a few. What do any of those things have to with comics? It's just sad.

Also, comics used to be a cartoonists medium and now it's more of an illustrator medium. You pick up a comic and the cover is usually just a muddy colored, generic portrait of the main character. Then, when you look inside the pages look like a collection of illustrated fantasy art or something that's been scanned and photoshopped to death. It's really a shame that comics don't even look like comics anymore.

It's one of the main reasons I quit reading the new stuff a while back. I like my comics bright, colorful and dynamic. Nuff said.

jimshooter said...

Dear Oscar,

I think that with some exceptions, the storytelling in comics today is pretty bad, both by writers and artists. Both the writers fail to provide the reader information necessary to understand the story and artists fail to make what is happening clear at a glance. I'll rant more about this later.

Oscar Solis said...

Hi Jim. I look forward to reading what you have to say in regards to this.

William- I also look at comics storytelling as something that seems to be disappearing. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to read a store clearly. If I have to stop at any point to figure out what's happened then I know that the storytelling has failed.

I haven't been to ComicCon since 1987. I heard it's like being in a sardine can now.

Oscar Solis said...

I meant to write "...I prefer to read a story clearly" not store.

Craig Hansen said...

Jim,

At some point, I'd love to hear an all-new, with the perspective of time version of how the whole "death of Phoenix" episode went down. You made a pretty good airing out of things in Marvel Age (I think) back in the 80s, but, well... it's one of those tales that bears repeating. I'd love to hear you retell it with more distance from the actual incident.

O...er, M? Someone help me here... said...

Somebody Very Tall Sez:

Again, sorry about names slipping away….

...That's otay, John. When you get our age, we're lucky we remember our own names :P :P

OM said...

...Jim, maybe you can confirm/deny once and for all: was Captain Action cancelled because of poor sales, or because someone at Ideal got all pissy over the plot of the last issue, where CA and Action Boy beat the crap out of a bunch of neo-Nazis?

...The reason I ask is because back in the late 80's I had the honor to meet Gil Kane and his wife - damn, has it been 20 years plus already?? :( - and from his recollection he'd been told two different stories. "Officially" the book was cancelled because of a sales dropoff that occurred when the toy line was cancelled, but "unofficially" he'd been told by several DC staffers that the real reason was that someone at Ideal took issue with the plot for Captain Action #5, and had the license yanked the day after the book hit the spinner racks.

...On a side note, Gil did recall having started on the pages for the next issue when he'd gotten the word that the series was canned, but couldn't recall whether he still had the 2-3 unfinished pages at home, much less what the plot was about.

So, any ideas on this one? Or were you out of the CA loop by then?

OM said...

I picked up a book and it looked like someone had taken photographs and run them through a photoshop filter.

...GregLand?

pete doree said...

Every time I browse through new comics, I'm staggered by the downright ugly rubbish that calls itself comic art these days. It all looks exactly the same, all photoshopped crap with the artists using themselves as models for every male character and porn mags for every female character. It's not just old guys pining for the comics of their chilhoods; the people we're discussing ( Gil, Woody, the Romita's ) could draw the human figure, understood light & shade without the aid of a computer, could tell a dramatic, involving story even ( especially ) if it involved just people standing around talking.
Very few seem able to do any of this now.
Not that the scripts are any better. I don't buy new comics now, I get trades out of the library. But for every 5 I take out, at least 3 will go back unread because they're so boring.
Every character is twisted and dark, every story goes on forever with nothing actually happening, and I've had enough.
I hate saying I don't buy modern comics, but why should I when they're not giving me what I want. I want involving stories, drawn by people who can actually draw. Why is that so difficult?

Anonymous said...

Wow, before I found this blog I was allowing myself to be cowed into the ideas that more realistic is better, that I'd better get used to using Photoshop to color my work because it wouldn't look good to a modern audience otherwise, and that my six-panel grid with deviations where necessary would get kinda boring to read after a while. Screw that, I'm stickin' to my guns on the layout, I'll probably go back to your coloring post to find which dyes to use for colors ON THE BOARDS and...well I could never really alter my style all that much from what naturally comes out of my hand but the page I'm working on now (first page of my first book, actually) somehow looks a little more satisfying. Thanks!

I still need reference and it's funny Pete should mention artists who use themselves for that but I don't really have anyone else around and a full-length mirror is much easier than trying to find a "close enough" pose somewhere else. I still have the mirror away from my table though so going up to it, figuring out the position, and going back and drawing it from memory is better, I think, than ohhhhh say...drawing the tricep in the wrong place or state of flex for a particular arm position. What can I say, we can't all be Jack Kirby but I do my best and every lesson helps. Thanks again. To all of you.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you are being overly critical of modern comics generally. There's always been dross out there in the medium just like every medium. There's also some absolute gems in every era, I'd say this one is no less blessed than any. There's enough room in the field of comics for many art styles and to say that all comics put out nowadays are dull looking is very disingenuous. The medium would be all the poorer if it lost great artists like Epting, Lark, Mack and Maleev. They can and do exist alongside the Immomens, JR JRs and Cookes.

And BTW, I'm an old guy and I love comics as much today as I ever have.

BenoƮt Leblanc said...

On the subject of modern comics: I basically agree with the criticism aimed at the "majors", endlessly rehashing the same plots and drowning the art in digital effects. I would however like to remind distraught fans that there are many, many series (usually from smaller publishers or even self-publishers) that are clearly based on love for the medium and not on the need to exploit a franchise.

Things like Love & Rockets, Finder, Asterios Polyp, Age of bronze, all remind us that there is still extremely high quality out there. And I'm darn grateful for it!

Greygor said...

Wasn't it Theodore Sturgeon who said 90% of everything was crap. If true then in comics this would surely apply to all ages of comics from Modern to Golden Age.

In addition if you accept this you are left arguing about which of the 10% is good. Which is of course why we now have the internet so we can argue about it.

Anonymous said...

Great story. Regarding Adam West and the Batman Movie, my favorite scene and IMHO the funniest moment has to be Batman on the ladder, dangling from the helicopter with a shark attached and asking Robin for the can of Shark Repellent. That makes me laugh to this day. Who carries Shark Repellent? And if I remember correct, he had four aerosol cans in the helicopter and one of them just happened to be Shark repellent. Imagine the trouble he would have been in, if he packed his moose repellent instead.

Doug "Rockhead" Rockstead

TheWriteJerry said...

To quote Jim:

"Both the writers fail to provide the reader information necessary to understand the story and artists fail to make what is happening clear at a glance."

Hammer, meet Nail Head.

A lot of comic books coming out of Marvel and DC take the reader for granted. It's all become - as some posters have commented elsewhere - "continuity porn." A lot of scripts play a game of "let me show you how much I know about these characters' pasts" coupled with "Let me now show you what cool idea I have for a plot germ that involves this entire history."

It's become about the cool idea and not the storytelling.

You can add a good deal of licensed books to this list. If you're not familiar with every minute detail of the characters' history, you feel like you're on the outside of some bad in-joke.

Sure, history and continuity are import - so important in fact that writers need to give clues and even outright reminders of what that history is instead of starting a reader off on a Wikipedia search for answers.

As for the art - well, that bounces off of the writer's storytelling ability, at least to a point. So if the writer isn't being clear about what is going on, how is an artist supposed to draw it? But yes, the artist is also responsible for storytelling, and that appears to be a dying art form in favor of "hero shots" - which I suppose makes for better original art sales.

Matt Hawes said...

I have to say, my experience with meeting (or attempting to meet) Adam West at a local circus as a child was a different sort of experience. Basically, West snubbed a group of us children. My friend told me of when they went to see West at the circus on the other days and he (and Burt Ward) were both smoking and drinking beer in costume. I have to confess, it turned me off to West, even though I continued to watch the TV show. That was really due to the character, though, as I learned to separate the actor from the role.

Years later, I read in West's autobiography that the low point of his career was being shot out of a cannon in Evansville, Indiana. He was talking about that circus I attended as a youth. You can also read an interview where West mentions this event (mistakenly remembering it as a carnival, not a circus) at this site:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/adam-west-behind-the-mask-502585.html

From that site:

"...His lowest point came when he was in his Batman suit - this, remember, is a man who could have had a career as a Stanford academic - waiting to be fired out of a cannon, at a carnival in Evansville, Indiana.

'I felt I had betrayed Batman.'..."

I try to think of that now, when I remember his attitude at the circus. So, I don't hold as much as a grudge as I once did as a child.

I saw Adam West again just last year at the Wizard Chicago Comic-Con, as I waited in line with a friend who wanted West's autograph. Frankly, West seemed out of it, and didn't hardly acknowledge my friend even as he spoke to West. West's assistant did all the talking as West looked down at a piece of paper that he was doodling on.

My friend paid the get a photo of West and Burt Ward (for $120!!) by a replica of the Batmobile. My friend said that West was smiling and very friendly at that time. Of course, I'd be happy too if somebody just paid $120 to get my photo.

On another subject, related to Jim...

Jim, will you tell us the story sometime about how the whole "Marvel Try-Out" contest and book came to be? I sent in my own submission to that contest, but did not win, obviously (nor should I have, looking at the entry nowadays). I recall that it was Mark Bagley that won that contest.

Thanks again for sharing all these stories with us, Jim!

jimshooter said...

Dear OM,

Julie Schwartz became editor after my issues and I was pretty much out of the loop then. But, I can almost guarantee you that the book was cancelled due to low sales, not because of any problem with Ideal. They stopped caring what was going on with the book after the first issue.

pete doree said...

Don't get me wrong, anonymous, of course artists use themselves as their own models, Gene Colan did it all the time. But not all of his characters looked like Gene. There was an attempt to differentiate the characters, and I don't see that so much now.
And anonymous 2 ( the sequel! ) maybe I am a crusty old guy ( in fact I know I am! ) but I genuinely don't think there's as much good stuff around as there was, and maybe I'm looking at the artists of my youth through rose coloured spectacles, and I need to accept times have moved on, but I see very little actual storytelling going on.
And as regards continuity,if old gits like us can't make our way through the mire of turgid minutiae masquering as plots, what chance does anyone else have?
The big two have a golden opportunity with all the movies to grab new readers, but the stuff they produce now simply won't work on that level. Does naybody think the DC reboot will work? 'Cos I'm not sure, but I'm thinking probably not. Love to be proved wrong tho'.

Oscar Solis said...

Pete- I get accused of loving the past a little too much. I must be a crusty old guy myself :). Anyhow, I agree that the continuity bit has gotten way out of hand. My main beef has always been with bad storytelling. I was reading some old Korak's and Space Family Robinson's drawn by Dan Speigle. I never once had to stop and figure out where I was at any point in the story. Compositions were clear and panel to panel flow was easy to follow. And best of all the story was complete in one issue. A good study of Spiegle, as well as Russ Manning and Paul Norris, would be invaluable to any artist wanting to learn panel to panel continuity. And although they dwelled in comic strips, there is a real reason why guys like Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Frank Robbins are held in high regard by those who appreciate good storytelling.

jimshooter said...

The Try-Out Book and contest are now on the list.

jimshooter said...

Dear jeff,

I stand corrected, sort of. "Loser" was my word, my over-enthusiastic paraphrase of what Mark said. Mark was more polite than I am.