EC and Me

by Bob Wayne

I’ve told my comics and sf anecdotes over the years to my friends at convention panels and meals. George suggested that the Wild Cards readership may also want to see a few of them. So let’s start with stories from three conventions, lightly connected by my enthusiasm for EC Comics.

It’s the summer of 1968. I’m 14 and attending my first convention. Southwestercon, June 21-23 at the Hotel Southland in downtown Dallas. The hotel was demolished a few years later. There’s probably no connection. I couldn’t convince my mother to let me go to a rock concert but she was okay with my taking a bus forty miles from Fort Worth to Dallas for a comics and science fiction convention. I talked to one of the guests for a bit and told him that I was going to immediately buy one of his books. That writer was Fritz Leiber and the book I bought was the Ballantine paperback of A PAIL OF AIR with the striking Richard Powers cover. What I remember even more from that convention was that when I arrived there was a man seated outside the con in a chair with a suitcase in his lap. The suitcase was filled with comics I had never seen before, so I passed on them and went inside looking for some more recent back issues.

It was a suitcase full of EC Comics. Within a few years I would regret passing on buying any of those comics. Thankfully, Russ Cochran would start reprinting classic EC Comics material a couple of years later, so that I now have collected almost every comic EC ever published in matching deluxe hardcovers. 

(I did manage to make it to my first rock concert two years later — Traffic touring for the JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE album, supported by Mott the Hoople and Mountain.)

Fast forward to the summer of 1973. I’m 19 and attending my second convention. D-Con ’73, June 28-July 1 at the Sheraton Dallas, also in downtown Dallas. Several memorable things happened at that convention. My memory is that I managed to not meet a remarkable number of the people who were there, including George R.R. Martin, Lisa Tuttle, Ken Keller, and Lewis Shiner. (But I discovered a local fan group from the con and met all of those folks over the next few years.) I did meet several folks selling comics and fanzines including Bud Plant, Russ Cochran (the EC reprints guy) and Chuck Rozanski.

I also met two of the convention guests. Harlan Ellison was there, in part promoting THE STARLOST, a television series he would disown later that year. He was also there for the release of HARLAN ELLISON: A BIBLIOGRAPHIC CHECKLIST by Leslie Kay Swigart, published by D-Con ’73 convention chairman Joe Bob Williams. (I still have my signed copy.)

Harlan read two stories. Actually he performed two stories. It was the first time I had ever heard an author read their work and I was enthralled. I asked Harlan a question towards the end of a Q&A session. He responded with his signature charm, questioning my intelligence due to my mild Texas drawl. I responded with appropriate sarcasm and said “good luck with your TV show”. Harlan asked my name and I told him. He slowly repeated “Wayne,” pondering it as if he was making a mental note. At that time I didn’t know that forty years of similar sarcastic exchanges with Harlan would follow.

Before the convention started, there was a late night call-in show on a local radio station with one of the guests. I called in and spoke live with William M. Gaines, the publisher of EC Comics and MAD Magazine. I asked a few questions and Bill answered them all at length.

When I saw Bill at the convention, I went up and introduced myself as the guy who had called in with the EC questions. He thanked me for calling in and asked if I had any other questions. Of course I did. I remember asking if he had considered reviving his 1950s EC horror titles as magazines considering the recent success of Jim Warren’s CREEPY and EERIE horror magazines. With a twinkle in his eyes he said “Nah, I don’t want to work that hard.” I chose not to mention walking past the guy five years prior with the suitcase full of ECs for sale.

There was a woman standing with Bill, holding a valise. She looked at her watch and said “Bill, it’s time.” He then explained that the reason he had agreed to be a guest at the convention was because they were having a 3D film festival and that he was a big 3D fan. Would I like to join them to watch some 3D films? Hell yes, I wanted to watch 3D movies with William M. Gaines. Off to the film room we went.

At the entrance there was a young guy handing out 3D glasses. He offered them to Bill. Bill stopped him and said “Would you please check with the projectionist to see which 3D system he’s using today?” 

“Of course, Mr. Gaines” and off he goes as the line behind us comes to a halt. He returns and shares the 3D information with Bill. Bill turns to his companion who opens up the valise. It’s felt-lined containing a half-dozen prescription glasses customized for various 3D formats. Bill takes out the appropriate pair, puts his regular glasses in its place, the valise snaps shut and we go inside to see HOUSE OF WAX in 3D. 

I called my mother the next day and told her that I wanted to go into publishing because clearly it allowed you to be both successful and eccentric. To this day, owning a collection of prescription 3D glasses remains one of my (as yet unachieved) benchmarks of success.

(Howard Waldrop assures me that D-Con ’73 Special Guest George R.R. Martin had to ride part of the way to the convention sitting on those actual 3D film canisters. While I did watch some of those movies he sat on, I don’t believe it counts as meeting George.)

In the mid1980s when I was a comics and sf retailer, I had the opportunity to meet Doug Wildey. Doug was a comics artist with a long career, including his RIO series. He’s probably best known as the creator of the 1964 Hanna-Barbera prime time animated series JONNY QUEST. I had met him at a convention in Dallas/Fort Worth and, when he heard I was a local, he asked me where he should go for dinner. He then invited me and some other folks to join him.

Fast forward to August 1987. It was my first week on staff at DC Comics, which just happened to be the week of the 20th annual San Diego Comic-Con. I’m at a poolside party at the Holiday Inn on Harbor Drive near the old San Diego Convention Center (now the Wyndham San Diego Bayside,) chatting with Doug who says “Anybody here you’d like to meet? I see Alex over there.”

Alex was Alex Toth, legendary comics artist and the creator of the 1966 Hanna-Barbera series SPACE GHOST. And he drew an EC Comics story! Hell yes, I wanted to meet Alex Toth! Doug walks me over to where Alex is holding court.

Doug: “Alex, this is my friend Bob. We’ve shared some good meals in Texas. This is his first week on the job at DC Comics.”

I extend my right hand with “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Toth”.

Alex takes my hand and shakes it saying: “Well young man, I hope they don’t fuck you over the same way they fucked me over every time I worked for them.”

“Yes sir, I hope not as well.”

We walked away. Doug turns to me and says: “That’s Alex.”
©2019  Bob Wayne