Vaughn Bode later moved to California, and Jeff Jones went with him, and I’ve always wondered about that. They set up shop in San Francisco where Vaughn was about to set up his religion. He died there. I remember that Steranko broke the news to me, on a warm summer afternoon in July of 1976. I wanted to go to the funeral, so I spent the money I'd saved for the San Diego Con (a month later,) and called Vaughn's brother Vincent. I told him I could afford to come out, but not enough for a hotel. Vincent insisted I stay at Vaughn's place, so everything was set, I thought. Seems to me I arrived on a Wednesday, and I cabbed to the house. There, I was met by Jeff, Diane Petrie, and Bob Wiener. Scrooge ghosts. There were friends like Trina Robbins (pretty broken up,) and in the middle of it all was ten-year-old Mark Bode. Since none of the adults were paying any attention to him, I took it upon myself to hang out with my hero’s son. We spent the day together and Mark told me that his father had been teaching him the secrets of his art and that Mark was going to follow in his footsteps.
He even showed me pages that proved it.
Just like my father.
The work was crude, but you could see the spark.
I was illustrating a Classics Illustrated style version of TREASURE ISLAND for some Canadian company that never published anything, and had a strict schedule to adhere to. Two pages of pencils a day, funeral or no. I sat down at his, Bode’s table, felt quite at one with him, and commenced work. Vaughn's studio was empty and quiet, and I began to break down a page. Mark came in and spoke with me for a while, and then left. A little later, Jeff came in and asked what I was doing. I told him, and then shortly after, Bob entered and asked what I was doing. Odd, I thought. Jeff wanted to say something and I urged him to do so in a very non-confrontational manner, as I understood how he needed to be approached.
He told me, in an urgent manner, that I had to clear off of Vaughn's table, pronto.
So much for non-confrontational.
So much for what that drawing-table was built for.
“Mark would flip-out if he saw somebody else working on his father's table, right now.” On cue, Mark entered the room and I asked him if he minded me working on his father's table. He looked slightly confused and asked why it would bother him.
I cleared off anyway, it was for sure somebody didn't like the idea of me working/being there. Occasionally, Diane would grab Bob and Jeff and retreat to the kitchen, behind closed swinging doors hushed doors. Hushed conversation.
It was all too strange.
Didn’t these people come from happy families, like I did?
Friday morning many of us took some San Francisco bus to the funeral, and I was Mark's companion. I remember some woman commenting on Trina’s faux-cherry decorated sandals, and Ms. Robbins had a hard time thanking her for the compliment. As before, most of the adults ignored Mark, and I thought it was pretty heartless.
Inside of the church, on Vaughn’s coffin sat he twelve-inch rubber model of Cheech Wizard I'd built for him, and after the service, Mark and I went outside and looked at the nearby bay-bridge, and bay. Mark had the rubber model in hand, and tried to return it to me, hesitating like a ten-year-old might. I insisted he keep it. “If I got it back, it would be like I’d never given it to Vaughn,” and now it was in his hands, linking all three of us.
Happily, he agreed.
I cleaned up that bugger thirty years later with acrylic paints, much to our mutual satisfaction.
“I think I still have that tube of red around here somewhere. Unless it’s a solid hunk of something, at this hour.”
From there we went to Vincent's place for the wake. He'd moved all of Vaughn's diaries out of the apartment and I read some of them, with his permission. Very revealing. Every fourth page was a full -page illustration. Hundreds of drawings. And the bitch stopped writing just before he met me.
More weird vibes back at the apartment. Friday night at about 10:00 I was dozing off to sleep on the couch in the living room. I'd spent the evening watching TV with Mark, but all was now dark. Bob Weiner came into the living room, then retreated back into the kitchen. Almost silently.
Strange, like this whole thing was.
Back again in the living room I finally looked up at his tall shadowed figure (Insert “BWAHHHAHHHAAAAHHHHHA or “I vant to drink your blood,” as it applies,) and he spoke the cryptic "I have friends in Berkley". Good, I'm glad, now beat it, I'm going to sleep. He repeated his message "I have friends in Berkley." Sorry, I still don't get it. After a pause, he said, "They'll put you up." No, I was scheduled to move across the bay to Berkley the next morning with letterer and long-time pal, ex-Detriter Tom Orzechowski. His brother was leaving the next day and there would finally be room. "No, you have to leave tonight. Diane doesn't want you here any more."
So, I dragged my sleepy ass out of couch, packed my bag, used my last twenty dollars to cab to Tom's, slept on a hard-wood floor, and steamed at it all.
And, it’s been very hard to forgive them.
Jeff, yes. The others, not so much.