Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Strange Tales – San Diego Comic-Con Memories

One of the Worst of Times – Slighting Russ Manning


I met Russ Manning at the Con in 1979, I think. I didn’t really have much of a chance to talk to him, just long enough to tell him how much I loved his work, how I relentlessly tracked down every issue of Magnus Robot Fighter. How many times had he heard that in the previous half-hour alone?

Anyway, just meeting him and shaking his hand was a great honor. He was very busy. Inundated by fans like me. He always took time to look at aspiring artists’ work and give them pointers and encouragement, so he was always mobbed.

Next year, I was at the Con again, as usual. I remember it had been a particularly long and tiring day. I was exhausted. As the show was closing, I dragged myself across the street from the old Convention Center to the Executive Hotel and shambled wearily into an elevator that was conveniently waiting. Or being held….

There was another guy on the elevator. I was in the fog of weariness, not paying attention. The other guy, who looked to be twenty years or so older than me said, “Hi, Jim.”

I looked up, stared stupidly for a half-second—just a half-second—before the cogs in my mind turned and I realized that the guy was Russ Manning. Before I could say anything he offered his hand and said, “Russ Manning.”

I stammered the usual apologies one does in such a situation. We chatted for as long as it took to get to his floor.

Next year, once again after a long day at the Con, bone weary, I shambled back to the Executive. Once again the elevator was waiting. Once again, there was a guy.

As the doors closed, he said, “Hi, Jim.”

I looked up and for a moment had no idea who this guy was.

“Russ Manning,” he said, with a hint of a sigh.

In my defense, I offer this: he didn’t look like himself. He looked older. Thinner. Worn. He was ill. Very ill.

He wasn’t irritated with me or insulted. He just seemed hurt, or saddened. I guess he didn’t need to be reminded that he didn’t look well.

I stammered the usual apologies.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I wish I had that moment back to do over.

Someday, when I wind up wherever comics people go after our series is cancelled on this mortal coil, I will patiently stand in line with the other fans, stride boldly up to him when it’s my turn and say, “Hi, Russ. Jim Shooter.”



One of the Best of Times – Sergio’s Super-speed Inkpot Awards Sketches

I think it was 1981. At the Inkpot Awards Banquet, Shel Dorf took the podium to present the plaques as usual, but that year there was a special, additional feature—Sergio Aragonés was also onstage, there to draw a cartoon of every recipient as they accepted his or her award.

Sergio had an easel with a large drawing pad upstage from the podium, behind Shel, and out of his view as he presented the awards.

As each recipient was announced and got up to come to the stage, Sergio, Magic Marker at the ready, would take a good look at him or her. While Shel was rattling off the person’s accomplishments, Sergio would come up with an idea and before the thank you’s were said, he would have completed a brilliant and hysterically funny cartoon starring the awardee. Yes, he’s that quick with the ideas and draws faster than the speed of making light.

It was pants-wetting funny.

Three highlights:

Bill Sienkiewicz, who was quickly becoming a star, was at the Con for the first time, which, of course, qualifies one for an Inkpot. But Bill was so excited about it, and so nervous going up to the stage in front of the crowd that he was almost shaking. You’d think it was the Nobel Prize for Super Hero Literature. Sergio drew Bill at the podium clutching his Inkpot, looking all breathlessly, sincerely moved with his knees vibrating like harp strings.

Big laughs.

Mike Sekowsky’s name was called. When Mike got up, Sergio’s eyes went wide with that ¡qué inspiración…! look. Now, Mike was, shall we say, a large man, and Shel Dorf was no lightweight. Sergio drew Mike and Shel enormous belly to enormous belly, their arms too short for Shel to hand the plaque over.

That brought down the house. As I said, Sergio was out of Shel’s field of view, and Shel couldn’t imagine why everyone was laughing so hard at first.

Shel announced a posthumous award for a Japanese cartoonist. Again, Sergio’s eyes went wide. He whirled to face the drawing pad like a man possessed. The Marker stabbed toward the paper—but his drawing hand was intercepted, grabbed at the wrist by his non-drawing hand! An epic struggle ensued, non-drawing hand battling to prevent drawing hand from sketching something that might have been, shall we say, in questionable taste. As Sergio’s hands wrestled, rocked by their thrashing, he was writhing around on the stage. Once again, Shel was baffled at why the audience was laughing itself to pudding while he was talking about the accomplishments of the poor, deceased Japanese fellow.

The non-drawing hand won.

The funniest cartoon was the one Sergio didn’t draw.


NEXT: More Strange Tales

15 comments:

ja said...

Jim,

I believe that despite whatever 'slight' you felt you gave to Russ Manning, you have since honored him greatly by bringing his creation back to life, and into the hearts and minds of a new generation of fans.

That counts for something very significant.

Jim said...

Hi Jim,

I remember meeting you at a party the first night of SDCC in 1992. You told me the story about meeting Russ Manning, but back then, I somehow got the impression that the last time you met Russ was after you had licensed Magnus, Robot Fighter for Valiant. I now know that wouldn't have been possible. I think he would have appreciated what you have done with Magnus. You have been a good steward.

I do remember another story about helping the Simonsens(?) move.

Keep up the good work. I am looking forward to many more stories, both here and in print!

Wishing you the best,

Jim Baird

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I didn't know you had "relentlessly tracked down every issue of Magnus Robot Fighter." I thought you weren't into comics collecting. How many fans get to complete a run of a series and revive it twice?

I agree with ja. My first exposure to Magnus was in VALIANT's Magnus #1 twenty years ago and I never read the original Magnus until Manning's #1 was reprinted in the back of the "Dark Key" Magnus #1. If not for you, I and many other readers would never have "met" Magnus or the work of Russ Manning.

Sergio Aragonés is an even greater cartoonist than I thought! Swift wit and dueling hands. Were these cartoons* given to the recipients? Were they reproduced anywhere?

I wonder who the deceased mangaka was. Anyone know? I didn't know that manga was already on the radar of Comic-Con this early. According to Wikipedia, the only Japanese winner in 1981 was Monkey Punch (a.k.a. Kazuhiko Kato; Lupin III) who is still alive. Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy) won the previous year, but he didn't pass away until 1989.

Firestone said...

I was thinking, given the 'improper' nature, the logical answer would be Go Nagai. But, of course, he's alive.

Still, the thought of Sergio trying to draw something to sum up Go Nagai's work is good enough for me to share.

Brunomac said...

Nice to hear this old school Comic Con stuff. I haven't been there in these days of big hype, but my folks took me a couple of times as a kid in the late 70's when we went to San Diego on vacation (they pretty much dropped me off at the hotel for the day all day long - no Adam West and wife to look out for me!).

I got to talk to Stan Lee in a hallway for a few minutes about how much I loved comics, and then later I got to talk to Mel Blanc (who was on a cane and had recently had a horse riding accident or something) who did some voice for me. The con seemed so small compared to now. You could meet anyone and talk to them then.

ireactions said...

I'm really enjoying these recollections, Jim. I wanted to ask you about something that has weighed on my mind since your entry on your youthful regrets.

Your family's financial difficulties must have been a struggle for you, and I wanted to ask, did your family's circumstances eventually improve? You speak of how you worked very hard as a boy to support them, but you haven't said much of your family since you detailed how you left National and briefly worked with Marvel Comics before you needed a better paying job.

From reading your interviews and this blog, it seems you have experienced more hardship and betrayal than any one person should ever be asked to endure, and yet, your blog entries never fail to touch upon your triumphs and joys. I hope you can count your family's security and well-being among them. And if that is not the case, then you have my condolences. I know what it's like to miss out on youth too, and I can only hope to face my burdens with the courage you had.

Chris Hlady said...

Russ Manning, wow .....
I made it to two SD Comic cons in 1989 and 1990.

I said to Jack Kirby, "it's a pleasure to meet you." He said, "it's a pleasure to meet you." What a moment.

I had an awkward moment with Joe Kubert. Bought a sketch from Tony DeZuniga. Met Scott McLeod, and bought some original Zot page. Got a Dan DeCarlo gag. Had some DC yahoo look at my artwork. What else? Peter Gross was cool. Saw the Harvey Pekar play. Saw the Akira movie. More, much more, I'm sure. Didn't get any work, but good times.

Russ Manning, wow. And Wally Wood, from yesterday. Sigh.

Maybe again, someday. Too bad, some of the greats won't be there ... except in legend. #goodtimes

OM said...

...Jim, by any chance did you ever come across how that last arc of Russ Manning's other classic Captain Johnner and the Aliens was supposed to wind up? When Magnus was canned with #28, the last Aliens story ended with Johnner and the Aliens having beaten some "False Men" and saved M'Reema, only to return to an Earth stuck in a global ice age because the Sub was being blackend by some big black blob. 40 years later and how that arc was finally resolved has AFAIK never been revealed. I'd hoped that you'd come up with some sort of conclusion to the story after it was revealed that 1-A served in the same Earth space forces that Johnner did, but sadly that never happened.

...So, any clues? Or is this one of those "next issues" that, like Brother Power the Geek #3 appear to be as lost as that 2nd book of Comedies by Aristotle? :(

bmcmolo said...

I recently picked up some old Russ Manning Tarzans, based on some comments John Buscema made in the Comic Book Artist issue dedicated to him. (That and my interest in Magnus, which, like a few other people here, I'd never have gotten into had your resurrection of the character not put him on my radar. Let me say again how BUMMED I am that the Dark Keys aren't going on! I was really enjoying them. Particularly Mighty Samson. But I digress.) What a master.

jimshooter said...

Dear OM,

Re: Captain Johnner. Sorry. I have no info on that.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

I lost interest in comics around age eight. I was in the hospital for a week when I was 12. In those days, in a kids' ward, there were tons of comics around. No TV, nothing else to do, so I read the comics. The DC's were just like the ones I'd gotten bored with years earlier, but there were these new-fangled Marvel Comics....

That's when I decided to try writing comics. After that, I started buying some comics, mostly Marvel. The occasional DC -- Gil Kane Green Lanterns, for instance, especially if Star Sapphire was on the cover. Hoo-hah! Could Gil ever draw that woman's...um....

I'd pick up discarded "pop" bottles along the tracks and out of the garbage. Two cents deposit for each bottle. Return six bottles and you had the price of a comic book.

But I digress. I eventually discovered Magnus, Solar and a few others. As stupid as it sounds, I wasn't even conscious of the notion of "collecting" comics. I bought them to read and study, to get ready for writing (and crudely drawing) the story that would sell and save the day for my family.

I don't remember what became of Sergio's drawings.

It might have been a special award, not an Inkpot. It was definitely a recently deceased Japanese cartoonist.

I met Monkey Punch, by the way, and he stopped by Marvel to visit once. Cool guy.

jimshooter said...

Dear ireactions,

The short answer is yes. The money I made working for DC in the 60's kept us afloat. Years later, when I started making good money, I did what I could to help. Eventually, I paid off a lot of debts and provided some comforts. It all came out okay.

Thanks.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I just found your reply to my comment. Thanks! I try to keep up with the comments by going backwards through the last week of posts, but some go undiscovered for weeks, even months! A "latest comments" sidebar would be nice. Dunno how to set one up, but maybe JayJay the Blog Elf does ...

Nothing wrong with not knowing about the concept of "collecting" comics. Teaching yourself is far more valuable than accumulating objects. Fill your mind, not your closet.

Perhaps someone out there is studying your versions of Solar and Magnus. What lessons did you learn from Gold Key?

I'm trying to imagine a Marvel (Epic?) edition of Lupin III.

Glad to hear "[i]t all came out okay."

jimshooter said...

Hard to spell it all out, but I learned a lot looking at Russ Manning's work. I liked and filed away the attempted "real science" basis of Solar, though the writers and the artists weren't really up to it. I loved the concept of Turok, though it didn't go anywhere (heh). I sort of learned what not to do, there. I didn't read as much Samson. Too hokey. Again, the post-Apocalypse strong man was cool, but the creators weren't up to creating a good, convincing post-Apocalypse.

JayJayJackson said...

Hi Marc,

That was a really good suggestion, so I added a latest comments widget to the sidebar. I set it to show the last 15 comments right now. Some days that will be fine and then on days like today...

We'll have to see how well it works and if I need to increase the number of comments that are shown. The sidebar is really long now! But that's ok, I guess. As long as it's serving the needs of the readers and doesn't get confusing. Anyone... sure to let us know if you think it could be better.