Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Roy Hilbinger, 1953-2020, R.I.P.


(I know, I know. I haven't blogged in months. Facebook and other interests have pretty much taken the place of blogging in my life. But today's post actually concerns someone I met via the blogs, so posting about him here seemed all too appropriate.)

Today I learned that my friend Roy Hilbinger died. Roy and I met online twelve years ago, via something called "Theme Thursday." No, we never met face to face, but I can proudly say we were friends. Not "blogger friends." Not "Facebook friends." Friends. In fact, roughly ten years ago, he was going through a very difficult time, and he and I briefly considered having him stay with me until he could get back on his feet.

Ten years ago, in response to the chain-letter "awards" bloggers often gave each other, I created "The Silver Fox's THRUST HOME Award," given to the authors of specific blog posts that truly impressed me. In ten years, I've only given out four or five of these awards. The very first one was given to Roy, for this post, and his notification of his winning it was proudly placed on his own blog's sidebar, and kept there for ten years.

THE THRUST HOME AWARD

The Thrust Home Award
Given by The Silver Fox for meritorious blogging

He was a well-read, well-spoken, multi-faceted man of compassion and conscience, a man filled with creativity and integrity. He also had great taste in music... meaning his musical tastes were very similar to my own.

The world needs more people like him, but now, instead, we have one fewer. Life is rarely fair.


Happy Trails, you old hippie.


Thanks for your time.

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!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Best! Weekend! Ever! (or, "Tales of TerrifiCon 2019, Part Five-and-Final") ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post


WARNING! This is an extremely long post. I'm known for being excessively wordy when I write, and less so when I talk. But this time? Pack a lunch. And an overnight bag.

Okay, then, here we go! If you're a comic book fan, you're almost certain to enjoy all the artwork I'll be throwing at you in this post. If you're not a comic book follower, I still think – hope? – there will be enough here to catch your eye and make you stay all the way to my last word.

And once again, I'm going to point out to those of you who are comic book enthusiasts that most of my blog's regular readers are not comic fans, so if you encounter a fact here and there that makes you say “Everybody knows that,” well... it ain't necessarily so on this blog.

As mentioned in Part Four, my time at TerrifiCon 2019 was an early birthday present for Mrs. Lynch's little November baby. And the best part of said present was that a true artistic legend, Jim Steranko, was a guest of the convention... and I got to have dinner with the man!

Those of you who don't follow comic books may be thinking “Oh, how nice, David got to spend some time with one of those people who draws funnybooks.” Well, dining and talking with Steranko as opposed to someone else who just happens to be in the same business is almost like the difference between sitting with your brother-in-law who plays bass for a local rock band, or spending time instead with Elvis Presley. And, truth be told, that's not a bad comparison. In terms of his artistic innovations, his personal charisma, and his influence on the next generation of comic creators, Steranko – people often leave out the “Jim” part of his name, because there's only one Steranko – really is a rock star.

Or a rock god. Small G. Keep it understated.

Granted, Steranko wasn't the only innovative artist in comics during the late 1960s. I hear a couple of voices in the back row asking “What about Neal Adams over at DC?” Adams and Steranko were familiar with each others' work, of course. In fact Neal Adams worked a tribute to Steranko into one of his panels for the “Deadman” feature in Strange Adventures! (In case you can't read the words in the mist, they say “Hey! A Jim Steranko effect!”)


Anyway, I'd learned to read in 1960 or so, and was reading practically all the Marvel titles by early 1964. Now here we were somewhere around the beginning of 1967. At that point in my own comic-reading history, I was already tiring of Marvel's endless continued stories, made almost unbearable by the shitty spotty newsstand distribution of the time, which made me keep missing issues in all these ongoing storylines! And then, a couple of years later they had the nerve to raise the price of their comics from twelve cents to an unheard-of fifteen cents! So all I saw of Steranko's work at first was his inauspicious beginnings in Strange Tales on their “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature. Nice, but not really much different from what I was already used to from Marvel. And for two or three years, until the early 1970s, I bought very few comics compared to the mid-1960s, when I literally read almost anything I could get my hands on.


Then one fateful day – and I'm not overstating it by saying that – I was going through a stack of recent comics at my friend Jeff's house and I saw this:


The comic I held was coverless, but I immediately fell in love with it. The artwork was incredible. I even liked the judicious use of color. But what the hell was it that I was holding? I was too enthralled by the comic to look at the indicia, the information that's (usually) at the bottom of the first page that tells you what you're reading.


I turned the page, and saw a blond man in a trench-coat, which he doffed to reveal the costume of Captain America! As it happened, this was a copy of Captain America #111. (The last issue of that title which I'd owned had been #109, drawn by Jack Kirby. Steranko drew #110, #111, and #113.) I read on. Why wasn't he wearing his damned mask? I wondered. I read further, only to find to my astonishment that Cap's long-dead partner, Bucky, had somehow returned from the dead. (Back in those days, deceased comic characters didn't get resurrected quite as often.) I kept reading, and discovered to my relief that this “Bucky” was actually a character named Rick Jones, a sort of sidekick for Cap that used to hang around with the Hulk before him.

For all intents and purposes, that's the day that I truly discovered Jim Steranko.

Okay, I'll let the pictures take over for a bit. Here are some more shots from Captain America #111:




And by the way, Cap did eventually put his freakin' mask on!

To continue... I started researching Steranko's output, only to find out that he'd been doing some mind-blowing work here and there. He had worked on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. which now had its own title.



He had worked on X-Men.



And while he was doing his work for Marvel, he was art director for an ad agency and he played regularly in a rock'n'roll band! (Rumor has it that the man never sleeps.)

Nor did he slow down after he left Marvel, either. Here, in only an approximate order, are just some of his contributions to pop culture.

He found time to do this Star Trek poster... (I purchased one of these '70s posters sometime during the '80s.)


He developed his own character, Talon... (I bought one of these posters along with the Star Trek poster.)


He returned to Marvel to do one story for one of their romance titles, as well as several covers.


He produced two volumes of The Steranko History of Comics, an incredibly informative project which never saw a third volume.

By the way, I can name every single comic character on that cover!

He provided cover illustrations for about two dozen paperback novels reprinting various issues of the 1930s and 1940s pulp legend, The Shadow.



He adapted the 1981 film Outland, starring Sean Connery.


He found time to do little stories here and there, like this one from Superman #400...


He did the cover for this comic book revival of The Green Hornet...


(And here's the same illustration without all the excess crap that publishers require.)


He even did character designs for Raiders of the Lost Ark!



So, all of you non-comic people – if there are any of you left after all that – have I impressed upon you how important this gentleman is? (And as I ask that, I'm sitting here smiling because I left out so much! He's been a magician and an escape artist, a magazine publisher, and more... and more... and more...!)

Thus endeth one of the longest introductions in history.

On the evening of August 9th, TerrifiCon offered a dinner with the man himself, as it happened, and this exclusive get-together was part of my birthday present from my friend John (as explained in my last chapter).


As also mentioned last time, I skipped the Howard Chaykin panel that evening just so I could rest up for the scheduled four-hour event. I showed up only five or ten minutes before the 8:00 p.m. start, hoping I still had a chance to get a good seat, since I didn't know whether we had assigned seating or not

Surprisingly, I was the first one there. In fact, I was all by myself in our little dining area for several minutes. There were three identical tables, and nothing in the room's layout that indicated where Steranko would sit. That's when I took these photos, the only photos I ended up taking that entire evening!




Finally, the other guests began arriving. "My" table started filling up. In no time at all there were somewhere between two and three dozen people, waiting for the guest of honor, who seemed to be running a bit late. And since the people I sat with all got along so well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that things were just as cordial at the two other tables. At least, I didn't see any punches thrown. But it was no surprise that we all got along so well. We had a lot in common.

Eventually, the word came down. Steranko was running a bit late. Due to a faulty intercom, many of the convention-goers didn't realize that TerrifiCon had closed for the night. We were told he'd join us sometime before nine, if that was okay. Okay? Of course it was okay. None of us were going to leave, certainly.

When The Man arrived, he sat at each table for a generous interval while the rest of us ate our meals and conversed with him. I say "the rest of us" because I'm pretty sure Steranko himself didn't eat. Apparently, he eats as often as he sleeps.

He looks a lot younger than his actual age, and I get the impression that he is now what he's always been: A fascinating, talented, bundle of energy with an eye for the ladies.

After we'd finished our desserts, Jim let us question him about his own life, and not just the comic-related stuff. He talked about working in comics, yes, but also about performing magic and his various escapes, the extreme poverty he suffered growing up, how he was bullied by a ruthless street gang, and so on. And he was more than happy to let us guide the proceedings with our questions.

Jim Steranko is a remarkable storyteller. I'm not going to try to do justice here to any of his longer stories, but I am going to mention the subject I got him to open up about. I asked him to tell us about the time he slapped Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. (I should justify it a bit to say that Kane slapped Steranko first. If you need more information about the sleazier side of Bob Kane, you can read this post of mine.) I'd read about the incident for the first time only recently, although I believe it happened in the 1970s, not very long after Volume One of The Steranko History of Comics came out.

At first he seemed reluctant to discuss it, but as he got into the story, he became more and more animated. Or maybe agitated is a better word. Toward the end of the story, he was right in front of me, jabbing his finger toward my chest for emphasis as he spoke. I'd hate to have him angry with me.

(And now that I've teased you mercilessly about that tale, if you'd like to read about it elsewhere, here's a link!)

Steranko talked on and on -- it was kinda like reading one of my posts -- and Mitch Hallock, the head honcho of TerrifiCon, told me he was getting a bit nervous because our crowd was supposed to be out of the room by midnight... and it was already apparent that that just wasn't gonna happen!

It got later and later (or should I say earlier?) and Jim finally started autographing comics and other items for those assembled. (The ticket for the dinner included the chance for each of us to have two items signed.) He wasn't in any rush to do that, either. It seemed like he spent ten to twenty minutes with every one of us as he signed the things we'd brought.

The first item I handed him was a trade paperback reprinting a series of Airboy stories drawn by artist Tim Truman (who was also at this year's TerrifiCon). Truman did the interior art, but Steranko had done the cover! So I got my book signed by both.




Back in the 1990s, I had purchased a limited edition poster of that Airboy trade paperback cover. It was signed and numbered by Jim Steranko himself. He took time to tell me that he had enjoyed doing that trade paperback cover because he had loved the original Airboy series when he was a boy in the 1940s.

This is the poster image, but this one wasn't autographed like mine.

But my autographed Steranko poster had been damaged during a move. I told Jim that I had horrible luck where Steranko collectibles were concerned, and went on to explain that not only had I ruined the Airboy poster, but that I also owned one of the original 1970s Talon posters shown above, and when I took that from my closet to bring it to TerrifiCon, I discovered that it was cracked and spoiled with age.

The second item I gave him to autograph was the membership kit to the Shadow Secret Society, an organization Steranko had been involved with years earlier. As evidenced by his many Shadow paperback novel covers, he was and is a huge fan of the character.

 This isn't a photo of my kit. This is just a photo I found online which shows you the envelope's contents.



It was close to 1:30 when the evening finally wrapped up. Several of the two dozen or so guests had already left, but those of us who remained assembled for a group photo.


I find it pleasantly surprising that the shortest man in the line somehow seems to tower above the rest of us.






What I don't find surprising is that Steranko is standing right next to the only woman in the line!

Jim Steranko standing next to my new friends, Jenny and Brian Gordon.

The next day, I ended up at Steranko's table, because I had one more comic for him to autograph. He had two assistants, one male, one female. Even the man referred to him as "Steranko," like he was talking about Elvis, or Cher, or Madonna...

While I was in line, I noticed all the things he had on his table for sale. Posters and prints, mainly, but also some books and magazines, including both volumes of The Steranko History of Comics. And the posters included the Star Trek and Talon posters shown above.

Two places ahead of me in line stood a man with not one but two copies of The Incredible Hulk Special #1. Only the cover was drawn by Steranko.


Steranko handled the books very carefully, but in spite of that, when he slid one of the comics toward him, its cover came completely off! Everyone present held their breath, and the comic's owner had a look on his face like he'd just watched a truck run over his dog.

Obviously -- to me, anyway -- the cover that detached so easily must have been attached by the proverbial thread to begin with. All Jim could do was have his assistant refund the money the man had paid for the signature. I have to wonder whether that young man blamed Steranko for the damage. I wouldn't have.

When it was my turn, he remembered me from the previous night. I pointed at the Talon poster and he nodded sadly. He obviously remembered my little horror story, too.

Then I asked him something he'd probably been asked for years, although at this point, forty-plus years after Volume Two, it's more of a running joke. I asked when Volume Three of The Steranko History of Comics would be completed. He smiled and replied "Oh, it's all finished," but before I could even raise an eyebrow, he tapped his temple and said "Up here."

Finally, I handed him Captain America Special Edition #1. This was a two-issue deluxe series from 1984 which reprinted Steranko's three Captain America issues, plus other material.



Captain America Special Edition #1 contained Captain America #111, the issue which had first turned me on to Jim Steranko's breathtaking art. I flipped through the issue before he signed it, showing him how I became enthralled with the original comic, page by page. And yes, I told him the entire detailed story which you read earlier, describing my reactions about the coloring, and Cap fighting Hydra without his mask, and Bucky...

As he signed it, he looked up at me and said "Wow, that's a great story."

Jim Steranko. Jim Steranko said "Wow, that's a great story." To me.

TerrifiCon 2020 is gonna have to bust its metaphorical butt to top this year's convention.

*  *  *  *  *

Those of you who read my blog last year when I posted about TerrifiCon 2019 may recall the huge Thanos figure on display. Well, "he" was there this year, too.


However, after the convention was over, he looked like this at one point.


And the hall looked like this.



Seems kinda sad somehow, dunnit?

See you next August!



And if you read this, please comment? Especially if you came here from Facebook. Thank you.

Thanks for your time, and your perseverance!
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