The panel was moderated by Chris Ryall, with a rotating group of panelists, Josh Olson, William Stout, Erik Nelson, Steve Barnes, Nat Segaloff, Jud Myers, J.K. Woodward, Scott Tipton. Christine Valada, and Jason Davis. Susan Ellison, Harlan’s widow, was in the audience, seated in the front row. Bill Sienkiewicz was supposed to be on the panel as well, but could only stop in briefly to show his respects to Susan. The opening screenshot on the presentation that was running on the screen was done by Sienkiewicz when Harlan died, and prints of the piece were passed out to everyone who attended the panel.
Ryall started off the panel, and he was unable to get through the first sentence before he started to tear up. He then showed a video of Harlan talking in Nelson’s biographical documentary on Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth. Ryall shared that Harlan called him after Ryall brought Peter David‘s Fallen Angel to IDW, because Harlan really liked the book. Harlan called to say how smart Ryall was for doing this and so that he could get some of the variant covers.
Ryall shared that Neil Gaiman, Patton Oswalt, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and many more wanted a to be at the panel to talk about Harlan, but they could not make it. Gaiman did send in a video message talking about Harlan. In the video, Gaiman said he met Harlan in 1985, at the same convention that Harlan met his wife, Susan. Gaiman said he bought everything of Harlan’s that he could find saying he “needed that righteous fury.”
Gaiman stated that on one of his worst days he was flying and reading Harlan’s short story, Count the Clock That Tells the Time. After landing, and not necessarily being happy about it, Gaiman decided he was going to not waste any more time and he was going to write.
Stout talked about how excited he was when he was hired to illustrate one of Harlan’s stories, and then Stout heard later that Harlan hated the work Stout had done for the story. At a later convention, Stout saw Harlan and approached him, telling him that he had heard that Harlan had hated his illustration. Stout said, “That was the only time I saw Harlan blush. And he was at a loss for word for about five seconds, which was the longest I’ve ever seen Harlan at a loss for words. And he said, “Where’s your table?”, and I said right over there. He walked over and bought one of everything on my table, and that was the beginning of our friendship.”
Olson, screenwriter, spoke next. He met Harlan after Stout set up the meeting. Stout, where the hell did you find that kid, he’s like the little brother I never knew I had.”
Valada said she remembered seeing Harlan on tv one time and he said, “The more I’m around people, the more I like dogs.” She said she met her late husband, writer Len Wein, doing her photography art and he said he could introduce her to Harlan for her project. When she went to meet with Harlan she over heard him saying, “I have to get my fucking picture taken so my friend can get laid.” When she went in she said to him, “Mr. Ellison, I believe we have a lot in common, we’re a whole lot bigger on paper then we are in person.” She said he was very uncooperative after that when it came to taking the pictures, but when he saw the pictures he called her and was very nice and asked to use one of the photos for the back of a book. They were great friends after that.
Harlan and Len were great friends, and they would love going to the 99 Cents Only Stores, and pick up items and ask how much the item was. They would do it throughout the store. Valada said, “They were just a great couple.” She said, “Harlan Ellison always said, he had two friends in the world: a dead dog and Len Wein.”
Woodward drew Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever for IDW and drew Harlan into the book playing a character that Harlan had intended to play in the episode.
Segaloff, who wrote the Harlan biography A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, spoke next. Segaloff said that “Harlan respected people who respected him. All of you who are here, he would’ve respected you if he was here too because you made the extra effort to come.” He also said, “Harlan was cremated, and I’m sure, somewhere, he left a list of people in whose faces he wanted ashes thrown.”
Stout shared another story. One time they met up and Stout shared with Harlan that he was working for Disney as an Imagineer on the Disney theme parks and that they are paying him tons of money. Harlan looked at him and said he would have something in the mail tomorrow. In the mail were two quotes. “A man is what he does with his time.”, and “Artists are not corrupted by money, they are merely diverted from their true path.” Stout said, “I quit Disney the next day.”
Tipton said when they first met, Harlan knew that Tipton was working at IDW. Harlan asked what he was working on and Tipton told him the Star Trek and Doctor Who crossover. Harlan said, “You poor dumb bastard.”
Jud Meyers spoke next. Meyers had written down what he wanted to say and read from his papers. It was deep, touching, and filled with love, and I actually feel like it is too intimate for me to write down here. Instead I would just like to thank Meyers for sharing his Harlan and about himself with me.
Nelson said he had been working on Dreams with Sharp Teeth for 37 years. He shared a clip of Harlan in his lair with Robin Williams. Harlan was giving Williams a tour of his collection, with shots of Williams talking about Harlan interspersed between the two men acting a little boys as Harlan shared his collection.
When Ryall introduced Steve Barnes, he said, “He wrote for The Outer Limits, Baywatch” and that is when both Barnes and myself started cracking up, because those are two shows that should probably never be put next to each other in a sentence. Barnes said that he became aware of Harlan when he was 15 and he said, “One of the greatest honors of my existence is that I got to be his friend.”
As the photos continued to cycle through on the screen, Olson pointed out one in particular. He called it Josh and Harlan and Three That Would Opposed Them.
Jason Davis spoke next. Davis edited 17 books with Harlan, including his last. Davis said he did the Harlan Ellison Books Preservation Project as Kickstarter because he didn’t want Harlan’s work to just slip away after he was gone. He still goes to Susan’s house all the time going through Harlan’s work. He asked everyone to go to harlanellisonbooks.com and to get a book and pass it on, so Harlan’s work never goes away.
At that point, the convention staff in the room gave the stop sign and Ryall drove right through it so he could allow audience members to talk about Harlan as well. He also said that this should be an annual event because so many people have such great stories.
The last story I have to share was from Olson. He got a call from Ryall a few months ago asking to adapt Dream Corridor, but Olson really wanted to adapt some of Harlan’s non-fiction. He spent the last 4-5 months reading Harlan’s non-fiction. Ryall told Harlan and Harlan yelled at Olson and said it was a stupid idea. Olson had been about to give up, but after this he dug even deeper. In Olson’s last conversation with Harlan he told him that he was going to adapt a fictional work of Harlan’s, Along the Scenic Route, and that Harlan had been right. However, he said he still found the right non-fiction piece, How I Died (authors note: The correct title of the story that Olson refers to is The Day I Died and can be found in The Harlan Ellison Hornbook), but only Harlan would like it and the fans wouldn’t. Now Olson has decided he kind of has to adapt the story now. He said, “The notion that Harlan Ellison would die peacefully in his sleep, next to the woman he loved was (inaudible), it was a real beautiful capper to his story.”
So after an hour and 45 minutes — 15 minutes past the allotted time — and several unhappy convention staffers, I learned to appreciate and respect Harlan Ellison in ways I had not done before, through both the work he created and through the stories people told about the man himself. It was a panel filled with both tears and laughter, and I don’t think anything less than the real emotion that it provided could have been a better end to my 2018 SDCC experience.
For further musings from Joshua Stone you can follow him on the Twitter @1NerdyOne
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