Friday, November 22, 2019

Happy Birthday, Roy Thomas! ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" (on a Friday) Post!


Today's post celebrates the birthday of Roy Thomas, one of comic books' true living legends. I've had the pleasure of meeting Roy on two occasions -- TerrifiCon 2017 and TerrifiCon 2018 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT -- and so today, I'll be editing and combining my older posts about those two meetings.

(I should note something here: I've reported so extensively on this blog about TerrifiCon that you may wonder if I work for convention runner Mitch Hallock, or at least wangle myself some free tickets every year. Nope. I write these posts simply because I honestly enjoy the convention immensely. But if you're reading this, Mitch, I can be bought...)

My first year attending TerrifiCon was 2017, and it was a short visit. My friend John and I were only there for a few hours, and I only met four comic pros.

One of those pros was Roy Thomas. Here's the edited story of my very first meeting with Roy in 2017, and as always, let me remind my comic-reading friends that most of my blog's readers do not follow comics:


Roy was a BNF (Big Name Fan) in the early 1960s, eventually taking over the editorship of the fanzine Alter Ego from another BNF, Jerry Bails. In 1965, he was a school teacher who became a comic book pro and worked for DC Comics for about an hour... Okay, okay, it was really eight days, which isn't much longer.

He eventually went to work for Marvel. As I told Roy himself, I've been a fan of his since he started working there. ("That would be fifty-two years ago," Roy replied [in 2017]... not that either he or myself are anywhere near that old...)

His first extended writing job for Marvel was on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a title which I read, but admittedly, I didn't immediately notice that the book was being written by someone other than Stan Lee. From there he progressed to another of my favorites, the original X-Men title. He also wrote The Avengers for quite a while. He was the second person to write The Amazing Spider-Man, and the third to write Fantastic Four. He was responsible for Marvel's acquiring the rights to Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian in 1970, which began the "sword and sorcery" trend in comics. Thomas had (and has) a real love for the Golden Age comics he read as a boy -- he often revived or re-imagined Golden Age characters in the titles he wrote -- and he put that love to use in a series called The Invaders, which was set during World War II and featured 1940s Marvel characters such as Captain America (and Bucky), the original Human Torch (and his kid sidekick, named Toro for some unknown reason), and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. In the mid-1970s, Thomas was instrumental in arranging Marvel's comic book adaptation of a new science fiction film... a little something called Star Wars. Roy wrote and Howard Chaykin drew the first six issues, which followed the plot of the movie. And I've left out a lot.

Okay, you can take a breath here.

This was the issue I almost had Neal Adams sign as well!


The issue below, What If #4, contains a story by Roy that finally explained how Captain America had appeared until 1949, since he was supposed to have "died" in 1945! Roy said that he himself had really enjoyed that story. I told him that I'd read it yet again the previous night, at which point he asked "Did it end the same way?"



I went on to tell Roy how much I loved his stories (for both Marvel and DC) about the Golden Age heroes. He answered that those were his favorite to write.

In the 1980s, Roy Thomas started writing for DC Comics. He wrote stories for such various titles as Wonder Woman, Batman, DC Comics PresentsSecret Origins, and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and created or co-created such series as Arak Son of Thunder and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew... but his best work for DC was arguably his huge volume of work involving the Golden Age superheroes, particularly the Justice Society of America. The JSA appeared in All-Star Squadron (set in the early 1940s), the America vs. the Justice Society mini-series, The Last Days of the Justice Society one-shot, and in various issues of Secret Origins. All-Star Squadron birthed two spin-off series, Young All-Stars and Infinity, Inc. The long-running Infinity, Inc. featured children and protégés of the JSA members in modern times.

Perhaps one of my all-time favorite JSA-related tales was from the Infinity Inc. Annual #1. This was a story which largely concerned the Golden Age Green Lantern, a character whom I gush about here, and his daughter and son, Jade and Obsidian. That's the third comic I had Roy sign.



Roy (and writer Kurt Busiek) also appeared on a panel John and I attended later, where Roy talked at length about having taken over the scripting of The Amazing Spider-Man from Stan Lee in 1971. Roy also discussed the Spider-Man costume shown below, which he's owned since the mid-1960s. This was created for publicity purposes, and Roy himself used to wear it! (For an extensive article about the costume, its history, and numerous rare photos of Roy wearing it over the years, click here!)

This photo, taken by my friend John, shows Roy's Spider-Man costume. If you look closely, you'll note
that the legs of the outfit are purple rather than the proper blue that most of the rest of the suit is made of.

This photo, also taken by John, shows just a small section of the convention
floor. That's me on the far right, about three-quarters down. (Just kidding.)

Someone had the good idea to have Roy, who co-created the Iron Fist character
with artist Gil Kane in 1974, meet Finn Jones. Jones has the title role in Netflix'
Iron Fist series, and appears in The Defenders as well. I assume that something
was said to Jones along the lines of "If it wasn't for Roy, you wouldn't have this job."
Left to right: John Cimino, Roy Thomas, Finn Jones, and TerrifiCon boss Mitch Hallock.

Summing up (yes, finally!), I enjoyed this convention immensely, and only have two minor regrets.

The first is that I only had artist Jerry Ordway sign my copy of All-Star Squadron #20, considering that the damned thing was written by none other than Roy Thomas! I mean, just look at that cover, which has such a great place for Roy to have signed it.



And my second regret? Well, I kinda wish I'd met con guest Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing on Iron Fist and in The Defenders. I mean, just look at her.


And I see that Roy Thomas didn't pass up his chance to meet Jessica Henwick. Roy, you dog, you!

Left to right: Mitch Hallock, Roy Thomas, Jessica Henwick, and John Cimino!

*  *  *  *  *

And now for my story concerning TerrifiCon 2018:

I've probably read more comic books written by Roy Thomas than any other writer, except maybe Stan Lee.

A young Roy Thomas, as penciled by Dick Ayers and inked by John Severin.

Probably due more to good timing than anything else, the line at Roy's table at Terrificon 2018 was much shorter than the one at Terrificon 2017. The very first book I had him sign of the three I'd brought was – you guessed it – All-Star Squadron #20. And needless to say, he automatically signed it right where I hoped and expected he would!


Much better, eh?

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned that Roy edited the comic fanzine Alter Ego in the 1960s. Well, in the 1970s, two additional, “professional” issues of Alter Ego appeared, and I'd brought both for Roy to sign.



Roy and I briefly discussed the caricature of artist Gil Kane (no relation to Batman co-creator Bob Kane) on the cover of Alter Ego #10. Roy remarked that even though Kane's face in real life was nowhere near that thin, the drawing by the late Marie Severin (1929-2018) was unmistakably that of him.

It was when I handed Roy my copy of Alter Ego #11 that things got... interesting.

The cover of that issue featured yet another Marie Severin caricature, a spot-on sketch of legendary artist Bill Everett, creator of (among many other characters) Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.


Severin's original sketch (which follows) was redrawn slightly and “framed” by several examples of Everett's own characters, as were drawn by Bill for Alter Ego's long-awaited issue #11.


Roy took the book from me, but before he even signed it, he turned to the young guy seated on his right (Roy's friend and manager/agent John Cimino), and said, “This is the one I don't have.”

I immediately – immediately – said, “You can have that one.”

At first, Roy's attitude was something along the lines of how he didn't want to take my book away from me... but I wasn't having any of that.

Then he offered to buy it from me, and asked how much I wanted for it. I thought Okay, wiseguy, and calmly said “Three thousand dollars.” He knew I was joking, of course, but his eyes grew wide and he rapidly thrust the book back toward me like it was a poisonous snake.

Please keep in mind that this was/is not a rare and/or pricey collectible. A search on eBay will produce up to a dozen copies for auction at prices varying between five and twenty dollars. So it's not like Roy couldn't have found one if he'd made the effort himself. But he hadn't, for whatever reason.

And that was the point.

I told him I didn't want any money from him, and I tried to think of a way to tell him that after having enjoyed his writing for fifty-three years, it would thrill me no end to be able to repay him in even the tiniest of ways. I didn't actually say that, because I realized how corny it would sound even before I'd assembled all the words in my mind.

Finally, Roy told me about a two-volume set of trade paperbacks collecting the “best of” Alter Ego #1-11. These volumes went for about twenty bucks apiece. Roy offered to trade both of those books for my Alter Ego #11. That, I agreed to!

Roy asked for my mailing address, so I wrote it on the front cover of Alter Ego #11, and...

No. Come on now. You know I didn't do that.

I wrote it on a piece of cardboard handed to me by John Cimino. (John, by the way, writes a blog entitled Hero Envy -- The Blog Adventures. And that's far from all he does!)

John Cimino and Roy Thomas. (Photo NOT taken at TerrifiCon.)

But just to be safe, since he was afraid he might lose my address, Roy handed me his personal business card. I'd have scanned that for this post, but I would have had to redact almost all of it. His home address. His email address. His phone number.

Looking at that card in my hand, the eight-year-old comic fan deep inside of me felt like I felt the day I spoke with Jack Kirby on the telephone.

Or the day I visited Dick Ayers at his home. (I'll tell you about that someday soon.)

I received the two books in less than a week.



Both were signed "Thanks + Best Wishes -- Roy Thomas 2018."

In spite of suddenly having all of this contact info for Roy, I resolved not to make a pest of myself, and, seeing that I'm not eight years old... I haven't. Roy and I have exchanged a handful of emails on several subjects since then, and there is one bit of cool news which I'd dearly love to share with all of you, but I can't... yet.

Anyway, it wasn't until after I left Roy's waiting line that it even occurred to me that while I was doing all this chatting, negotiating, and all-around schmoozing there were probably a slew of people behind me wondering why the hell this white-haired bearded dude dressed in black was spending so much time talking to Roy Thomas. And usually, I sympathize with such people and try to make my own "business" brief.

But this time?

Screw 'em.

Thanks for your time, fellow babies.

And a Very Happy Birthday to Roy Thomas!

9 comments:

  1. Thanks. That means a lot, coming from such a close friend of the Man. Or should I say, "the Boy?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Why was John Cimino wearing a winter hat inside the building? Was it really cold in there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question. I'm not sure I've ever seen a photo of him without a hat.

      Delete
  3. Well, that was quite interesting. I can tell you are passionate about this stuff and you are quite knowledgeable.

    Hmm, what you didn't regret not meeting me. Lol...kidding I just had to add some of my own humor.

    I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, I did regret not meeting you, but that was this year, and my two meetings with Roy Thomas occurred in 2017 and 2018! Hopefully next year, if we get the email thing straightened out.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for saying that Silver, I still owe you a drink.

      Delete

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