by Bob Wayne
Bob Wayne here. I’m back with another episode of my True Convention Tales. During my years as a comics reader and retailer, and into my time in comics publishing, I’ve had many opportunities to meet my heroes. This one was different. And it requires more context than usual.
When I was a kid in the early 1960s, my maternal grandparents had their own small farm, surrounded by the rest of their neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. They had purchased several square blocks of land (along with their home) when their housing development was expanded in the 1940s. Their centerpiece was a unique barn. My grandfather worked for the telephone company, back when it was a monolithic business. When AT&T retired the old-style phone booths in our area (the classic change into your Superman costume style phone booths) my grandfather took a truck load of the decommissioned booths and some abandoned telephone poles and built himself a barn. It was a barn that had lots of natural light, since the walls were primarily those phone booth sections. The busiest part of the barn was the chicken coop. When I was a kid, I’d help check eggs, feed chickens, sweep out the barn and rake the chicken yard. The things I did for my allowance, always so I could buy more comic books.
In addition to the phone company job and running a small farm with my grandmother, my grandfather was also a precinct chairman, running the local polling place. His was located at the elementary school I attended in 5th and 6th grades. I would stay after school and help him out at every election. (Or at least I thought I was helping …) After the polls closed, we would drive to the county court house to deliver the ballots. No doubt that tradition with my grandfather gave me more awareness of the importance of voting than most of my classmates.
One of the most horrifying days of my young life was watching the evening news on our black & white television, seeing voting rights marchers in 1965 being beaten by police. I was upset, angry and confused. Why weren’t they being allowed to vote? I saw people voting all the time at my grandfather’s precinct. Why was this happening? My mother finally said that, unfortunately, some people hate other people just because they’re different. I didn’t consider that a good answer.
Fast forward. I moved from Texas to the northeast for a staff job at DC Comics. After I retired from DC in 2015, I stayed in the New York City area for a couple of years. Late that year, my friend and former competitor Greg Goldstein (then serving as the publisher of IDW) sent me a note, inviting me to an appearance by Congressman John Lewis at Columbia University. He was there in part promoting MARCH, his graphic novel trilogy about his life and the civil rights movement. Published by IDW’s Top Shelf imprint, MARCH has won numerous awards for Congressman Lewis, his co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, including a National Book Award and an Eisner Award.
So on a crisp Tuesday morning in December, I went into Manhattan for “Learn to March” A Talk by Congressman John Lewis on the Legacy of Selma 1965. One of the things that I identified with the most was when the Congressman talked about raising chickens as a youth. He would write numbers in pencil on the new eggs to keep track of the days until they hatched. This was a revelation to me when I first read it in the book. As far as I can remember, we never marked our eggs. I wished I could go back and make that upgrade. (Although in fairness I never preached to our chickens.)
After the event, I went on the Greg Goldstein walking tour of the Upper West Side Columbia neighborhood. Joining us was Chris Powell, an executive at Diamond Comic Distributors and a fellow displaced Texan. The three of us passed Tom’s Restaurant (better known as the exterior of Monk’s from Seinfeld) on our way to Greg’s favorite local pizza joint — Koronet Pizza. Koronet serves slices of pizza the size of a tabloid newspaper — definitely a New York folding slice. And definitely a good way to decompress after seeing a great man in person.
The next time I saw Congressman Lewis, he was back on my television, on June 22, 2016. He was one of the leaders of a sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives, demanding a vote for gun control legislation. It’s an issue that’s important to me, because members of my family have been victims of gun violence.
The following month, I was at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2016.
One afternoon I was walking through the South Lobby of the Marriott Marquis, directly adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center. Straight ahead of me was Congressman Lewis. I hailed him “Excuse me Congressman. I saw your presentation at Columbia. I sure wish I had known about penciling numbers on eggs when I was a kid. And I doubt you’ll have a lot of people say that to you today.” He grinned and chuckled.
“But I really wanted to thank you for organizing that sit-in last month. I was proud watching you do that.” He moved closer and gave me a big hug and said “Thank you my brother. The fight goes on.” With that we parted. I went and sat down, shaking my head in disbelief. I knew that I had just experienced the most memorable, most meaningful conversation I would ever have at any convention. Talking with a real life hero as fans in super-hero costumes walked around us.
Congressman Lewis passed away in 2020, but his collaborators are continuing to tell the story of his life in a second graphic novel trilogy titled RUN, debuting in August 2021 from Abrams ComicArts.
©2021 Bob Wayne