Roy Thomas, legendary comic book writer and editor for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, flew to Portsmouth Comic Con last weekend. Courtesy of his manager John Cimino, Bleeding Cool is happy to share his thoughts about the show.
I would have written sooner about the con that Dann and I (and my manager John Cimino) attended in Portsmouth, England, on Saturday and Sunday (May 4th and 5th), but after the two long transatlantic flights, I came back to face work on a rather late issue of ALTER EGO (#160, celebrating Steve Ditko)… plus yesterday afternoon and early this morning I had to write a 7500-word introduction to the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN OMNIBUS, VOL. 2, which will be out later this year… so this is the first chance I’ve had.
Dann and I have always looked for excuses to go to Britain… particularly because of our friends Roger Dicken and Wendy Hunt, who have lived in North Wales for the past third of a century. (Roger was a model-maker on movies like “2001,” “Warlords of Atlantis,” “Land That Time Forgot,” and “Alien.” In fact, he brought along the cast for the “chest-burster,” the original of which he made back in the late 70s. He also brought along some of the dinosaur and monster models he’d made for “Warlords of Atlantis. Roger also worked on the iconic show “Thunderbirds.”) Roger became another guest at the show, and they had him drive all his models there from Wales, a several-hour trip. He and Wendy managed it, even though they’re in the longtime throes of finally selling their monster of a house way up on an escarpment and moving elsewhere. (We met them through Don Glut and others in the late 70s, in L.A.)
We also enjoyed seeing Jean-Marc Lofficier, our friend and of course my collaborator on a number of Marvel and DC stories in DR. STRANGE, WHAT IF, and elsewhere back in the 80s and 90s. Jean-Marc now publishes the revived Lug (French) comics series, as well as numerous books, through his and wife Randy’s Black Coat Press. We met them in the late 70s when they lived in L.A.; they moved to the Carcassone area of France sometime in the 90s. Jean-Marc is of French birth; Randy is American but has always spoken flawless French. We were sorry that Randy had to stay home with their dogs (one of whom did manage to get sick while Jean-Marc was away, leading to numerous phone exchanges… but it recovered nicely before the con’s end).
So Dann, John, and I figured we’d have these “NATO/U.N.” dinners of Brits, French, and Americans… and then it turned out that Ger Apeldoorn and his wife Nel showed up, as well. Ger has been a longtime contributor to ALTER EGO on such subjects as the imitators of Harvey Kurtzman’s color MAD and the writing style and non-comicbook efforts of Stan Lee (see #150 most recently), and speaks English virtually without an accent. We’d always hoped to get together in person, so when we did, he and Nel (a librarian and also a fun person) joined us for the dinners that were, for us at least, the high point of the con. Happily, Steve Englehart and his wife Terry were also able to join us once or twice… as did Martin Gately (another AE contributor and friend of Jean-Marc’s) and his wife. We’d always try to find a nice quiet spot in a restaurant…and quickly turn it, alas, into the noisiest spot there.
Another person I was happy to meet is Robert Menzies, who’s done several pieces on Marvel UK and on Stan Lee in Britain for AE.
Now–oh yeah, before I forget–there was also a comics convention going on, so I should mention it, right?
The weather was nice but a bit brisk… but actually, mostly I sat behind a table with John and signed comics and the like, collecting money mostly for Hero Initiative and occasionally for myself. But, while the Marvel movies (and John Cimino’s expertise on marketing, promoting and knowledge of the industry and Internet) have given me a higher profile of late, so that people finally realize I had a hand not just in the Vision and Ultron and Iron Fist and Luke Cage but also in Wolverine, Carol Danvers, Morbius, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan/Daimon Hellstrom, WHAT IF?, and the like, and the lines are thus much longer than several years back, I try to speak a bit with each person who comes up. I don’t want to be a robot just signing and saying, “Move on, kid.” (One disgruntled artist apparently felt he got that kind of treatment from me once, years and years ago, and felt compelled to speak up on a panel recently to call me out as being insensitive and rude to people who wanted to say hello… but either I was having a bad day that day years ago, or else the guy is a nutcase. It’s a tossup as to which one is more likely in his case.) I enjoy the interchanges with fans and occasionally with other pros, and it’s good to be able to answer a query about my own work, or about Marvel or Stan Lee or DC or whatever. Often, I’m lucky enough to learn something of real interest to me… or even to line up something for ALTER EGO. Working every minute! I was pleased that so many people were aware I was writing some new CONAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA/INVADERS material for Marvel, to come out late this year or early next, and to be told they might actually buy a copy! (I don’t want to say more about that here, as Marvel may have their own schedule on which they’d like information released, but I’m certainly privileged to be working with two excellent artists on the two projects… one I’ve worked with before, and one I’ve always kinda wanted to work with.)
There were a few con panels, as well. After less than an hour on Saturday morning behind the table in the big dealers’ room (which I never really did get a chance to explore, sadly), I was hauled off to back-to-back panels… first one that was held outdoors on Stan Lee, where Steve Englehart, Jean-Marc, and I, with a moderator, made up a Stan Lee tribute panel, telling stories about The Man. All three of us had worked with him to some extent and had stories to share, though of course I had many more dealings with him. Naturally, there was plenty said about Jack Kirby and even Steve Ditko on that panel, as well, because they were the Trinity that made Marvel possible. Jean-Marc, as it turned out, had plenty of info about the early-70s bomb scare at the NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine’s offices (a couple of floors above us in the building Marvel then inhabited, I believe)… then could turn it over to me for the Marvel side of the evacuation… which fortunately was more humorous than deadly.
Then I was taken to the city’s council chambers, were I sat on a chair nearly big enough for Thanos for a Roy Thomas panel, and answered questions for another hour. I think it went okay.
The next day, the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Lee Mason came out to pose for a few pictures with us , then I was talking with a young man who was going to host a panel in which four local college students talked about “Avengers: Endgame,” and I opined that it might be fun to be on that panel, so he shoehorned me in. I learned a lot about the film that I had missed thus far from the quartet of bright 20-ish students, three young women and one young man. I disagreed with a couple of their perspectives and tried to say so politely, but I certainly learned more than I “taught,” which is always good. One student didn’t think there should be any more Marvel movies starring “white male heroes.” I disagreed with that, but stressed that at the same time I’m happy to see ethnic and gender divergency in the characters… I’m just not always wild about retconning racial or ethnic traits onto a character who didn’t originally have them, and feel that it’s much better to make up new characters, as witness what’s been done recently with Spider-Man. At least they didn’t wind up stoning me. John Cimino, in the audience, got embroiled in the discussion more than usual, too… he generally stays in the background, which is odd considering his background as a punk rocker a decade or so back, but on this occasion the enthusiasm of the students drew him in, too, and I think the sizable audience enjoyed the exchanges. I learned, for example, the answer to my burning question (SPOILER ALERT, if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen the movie yet!) of how Steve Rogers managed, near movie’s end, to go back in time and live a civilian, happily married life for decades without erasing what Captain America had done in the same timeline since thawing out of the ice. Hint: It has to do with the number of Power Stones.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see other panels or events that might have been at least as interesting as the above… or to roam the dealer’s room or other display rooms… and there certainly were a number of them, since we were not in a convention hall as such but in the Guildhall, which amounted to city hall… a several-story warren of rooms, closer to “Watership Down” than San Diego Comic-Con. But that just made it all the more interesting. Dann and I were just as happy not to have to stay in the room much and watch TV, because the news was mostly about the recent elections and Brexit, and that’s generally about as enlightening as the latest on the Mueller Report. Snoooooze.
And Dann? Well, she rarely shows up at the signing tables (even though the con mentioned she would be there), though she did sign a couple of comics when people tracked her down at Roger Dicken’s exhibit, where she spent a lot of time talking to them amid the dinosaurs and “chest-burster”). But she actually showed up at the first two panels I was on… even though she made me promise not to try to get her to go on stage. She could have told a Stan Lee story or two of her own… like about the time he roller-skated through the L.A. apartment he and his wife were then renting. She’d been far less eager than I to make the transatlantic hop, but the prospect of seeing Roger and Wendy, and then Jean-Marc, overcame her reluctance. And now it seems we’ll be at Paris Comic Con on October 25th and 26th… and all three of those folks hope they can make it again!
So, many thanks to Portsmouth Comic Con promoter Curt Hill and his people, Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool dropping by and saying hello and as always to my manager and good friend John Cimino, for making it all happen (that kid’s got the goods). I hope they feel they got their money’s worth. Transatlantic airfare ain’t cheap.