BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN
During my junior year at Redford High School, I was also once again active with the Detroit Triple FanFair. The Labor Day guest of 1970 was Jim Steranko in his second non-NYC appearance. He’d just finished an astounding run on NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and THE X-MEN, and certainly the fan-favorite of the moment. He’d quit Comics, his first paperback covers had begun to appear and there was great anticipation of his upcoming HISTORY OF THE COMICS. I first met him at the Phil Seuling Comic Con that year and was amazed at his charm and confidence. We stayed in contact by phone for the rest of the summer and we spent hours talking, never getting bored. He was making plans to launch his publishing company Supergraphics and was looking for likely slaves.
After the 1968 Detroit Triple FanFair The MISFITS (Michigan Science Fiction Society) and the other Science-fiction fans seemed to have a falling out with the con originator, Shel Dorf. He didn’t give a damn, he was moving to San Diego with his brother, and gave Richard Buckler and Robert Brosch the whole shebang. They snagged Al Williamson for a guest in 1969, my second convention.
Back to early 1970.
Late winter hours were spent talking to Jim and freezing my butt off in a very cold phone booth not far from my house with stolen phone card accounts.
Sadly, a crime of passion.
I will make no excuses for this conduct, other than I like being where I’m not supposed to be.
After all, this guy was my hero and befriending him was heady. We seemed to be on the same page even though I was almost two decades behind him, but he treated me with respect. We spent hours discussing comics, movies, trivia, and art as a business.
Got to meet him face to face at the NYC Comic Con that year. Rick and Ron Buckler, Bob Brosh, and I hit the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes in a car of great speed in a generally Easterly direction to NYC.
I was sixteen-years-old when first I hit New York City.
It was the mythic destination I had longed for as far back as I could remember. A place with a reputation very much deserved and one burned in the mind’s eye by countless movies and television shows. The statue of Prometheus at the skate-rink in Rockefeller Center looked exactly the way it had in ON THE TOWN and though I didn’t know the exact location where Rob Petre worked, thousands of skyscraper windows offered their possibilities. I waited on the corner of 42nd St, and Madison Avenue, and though I knew I’d never see Ralph Kramden, I checked their every bus driver’s face. “Hmm, they got a Black guy on Kramden’s route.”
I knew this place before I’d even set foot. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. The people ride in a hole in the ground and you take the “A” train to get to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem. You had to slow down and not move too fast on the 59th Street Bridge. 42nd Street was naughty, bawdy, and gaudy. Still, I was disappointed when I discovered Tiffany’s didn’t serve breakfast.
I liked New York in June, and figured I’d like it no matter what the month.
At sixteen-years of age, I’d finally arrived at home.
I’d driven out from Detroit with Bob Brosch, Rick Buckler, and his brother Ron. By dividing the cost of gas, and splitting a room, the trip was financially do-able and really the only way we were going to make it to the 1970 Phil Sueling Comic Con. The 1968 Detroit Triple Fan Fair brought in about 800 but this, the granddaddy of them all, drew thousands. The New York City location gave Seuling the advantage of having access to scores of professionals that he didn’t have to fly in, nor lodge for the night. Not to mention the fact that NYC is so easy to get to by mass transit.
Once we were dug-in at The Hotel Pennsylvania, I accompanied Jerry Bails and Rick Bucker to his appointment at DC Comics where he intended to show his portfolio to anybody who’d look at it.
We’d hit the town, stashed the car, bought admission tickets, and bee-lined for Steranko’s table just inside and to the right of the front door.
Guess Jim had a friend in Phil Seuling.
He was slight, and not what I expected. And yet, because I was slight we had an immediate bond, my hands not yet shacked. Two slight guys against the world.
Several big dealers made it in from the New York City area, including Phil Seuling (NYC Con) and Chester Grabowski. Chester had a face, which I once heard described as “a gargoyle,” and he was a real New York City type. Turns out that Saturday night was his birthday and we planned a surprise party for him in the dealers’ room. We got an ice-cream cake, a cooler full of beer, and Steranko drew a sixteen-foot banner, which read “Happy Birthday Chester, You Polack Prick,” and Jim even did a huge caricature of him at the end of a cock. We hung this over Bud Plant and Bob Beerbohm’s table, and sent somebody upstairs to fetch the birthday boy. I lit the candles and waited. And waited, and waited. The guy comes back and tells us that Chester is playing poker, winning and didn’t want to be distracted.
I set up another rack of candles and lit them as some guy took another elevator upstairs.
Chester was there in a shot, speaking loudly from the hall, “I can smell the smoke!”
Inside we greeted him with “Happy Birthday,” and by the time Grabowski made it to the cake to blow out the candles all that was left was an ice-cream cake puddle reduced to mush by the heat of the room and the a couple of mitts full of lit candles.
The party lasted a couple of hours and we sat around getting drunk and reading other people’s old comics.
Next morning, one of the dealers came over to registration and complained that the night before he’d left his table in perfect condition and this morning he found somebody’s puke in one of his boxes.
The convention paid him instantly.
As conventions go, The Detroit Triple Fan Fair was one of the biggest and best of the time. The 1970 show featured Steranko, Berni Wrightson, Frank Brunner, Steve Fritz, Richard Buckler, and Bob Taylor. Most of them were on hand for Arvell Jones birthday party on Friday afternoon.
This was held in somebody’s hotel room, with a real cake birthday cake. For some reason, we were leaping from bed to bed in poses by different artists, and Wrightson walks in and was immediately taken with the game. He leaped up on one of the twin beds and yells “Frank Frazetta,” and makes his leap. Who did it is lost to my memory but somebody grabbed Arvell’s cake and directed it to collided with Berni’s mush. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen that “falling into a cake” thing happen in real life.
It’s okay, Berni laughed too.