I apologize for the delay in doing these columns. The last year has been tough. Last summer my dad started falling down for no particular reason and was unable to get up. He fell on a Wednesday and I left work to get him. Two days later on Friday night, he fell at midnight and I had to get him up again. The next day we went to the emergency room to see if they could help. He checked into the hospital but never really left again. Nearly 6 months to the day, my step-mother who had been married to him for 16 years suffered a massive stroke and died within 48 hours. I have not particularly felt like doing these columns in the interim. Work got stressful, dealing with everything else got stressful, and I flaked out. I did not read, I did not read. I played solitaire. Not the best way to pass time. But the last few weeks I have had the urges again. I read six books last week, about the same as I read during January, February and half of March. I contributed 4 pieces to various blogs (including this one). John DeNardo gently pointed out that there was space anytime I felt like getting back in here. So, here I am.
This has not been a great year in the field of comic books with the recent deaths of Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson, two close friends who both worked for EC Comics in the 1950’s. They were both influential figures in the science fiction field as they showed how to tell a good story without words. They worked on the science fiction comics. Frazetta did Buck Rogers for famous Funnies and Al did Flash Gordon for comics and newspapers (in addition to his fabulous Secret Agent X strip).
I knew Al. Faintly. My wife knew him better. She met him at the Dallas Fantasy fairs where she frequently accompanied Julius Schwartz around; she met lots of folks that way. But she and Al sort of clicked. She would periodically call him up just to see how life was treating him. One year she asked him to do a sketch for me for my birthday, He said he would. She asked if it could be in color. His reply “You can’t afford color.” True. We waited for the convention and he arrived. He looked at her and said that he had been extremely busy and had not been able to do the piece. She smiled and said “OK”. He pulled out a sheet of paper with 6 Flash Gordon sketches on it, showing Flash and Ming in various fencing poses. He said “Take this instead,” and signed it over to me. He refused to take money for it since it was not what she had asked for. I am not sure what she asked for, but this was pretty durn cool! It is framed and hangs in the stairway at the top of the stairs.
All of this brings me around to the subject of prejudice against comic books by the SF field and the world in general. There are a lot of folks who look down their nose at you when you walk in with a graphic novel and look at the pictures (and maybe even the words!)
And, yes, I know there is now a Hugo for Best Comic now.
But take a look at a list of science fiction/fantasy and mystery writers who have contributed to the four color canon – Alfred Bester, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, Eando Binder, Mickey Spillane, Gardner Fox, during the Golden Age. Later you have folks like Neil Gaiman who migrated over to the SFF field. But it has gone both ways. Among the folks who have contributed are Michael Moorcock, Joss Whedon, J. Michael Straszinski, KW Jeter, Joe R. Lansdale, Diane Duane, Neal Barrett Jr, Harlan Ellison, David Brin, Paul Cornell, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Peter David, Lewis Shiner, Lucius Shepard, John Wooley, Howard Waldrop, George Alec Effinger, Samuel R. Delany, and many others. This list was just off the top of my head without going around to look for things. There is some very cool stiff in their work. And that is not counting the adaptations of classic writers. Then the list becomes huge!
I was thinking about a period right before I sold my books when I obliquely approached a university about the science fiction related graphic novels, many in expensive acid free archive editions. I was told that they were not interested. They wanted the prose work, not the illustrated stuff. It seemed to me that they were missing a bet, but that was part of the prejudice in the academic world.
So, give the comic some more respect. It brings people to the field and helps keep them there.
I have periodically sold illustrated books at conventions, including the graphic novels. I have no trouble with Sandman collections. I have more trouble with like The Legion of Super Heroes by Edmond Hamilton. But I guess it’s different stroked for different folks.
I love the comics. I really learned to read from them. And I acquired a vast knowledge of useless trivia from things like early 1960’s Batman comics where the least little obscure fact might trip up the villain. Those were the days when there were lots of puzzle stories.