Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Con games

Forget Cannes. I think my new dream should be to go to Comic-Con International.

On the positive side, it’s a lot more attainable. Any punter can reasonably get a ticket to attend the main event, unlike the Festival de Cannes, which is restricted to industry insiders. And the climate is comparable. Weatherwise, San Diego in July, on the whole, is probably better than the Côte d’Azur in May. And, here’s the kicker, there are definitely more places to get great Mexican food in the San Diego area than in the Cannes area. Believe me, I’ve investigated both, and SD comes out way ahead on this count, although I did find a (single) Mexican restaurant that was sort of okay (and sort of expensive) in Cannes.

On the negative side, they show more new movies at Cannes than at Comic-Con. In fact, they show more movies of any vintage at Cannes than at Comic-Con. After all, it’s a comic book convention, not a film festival. But Comic-Con does have a strong movie connection. The media have been full of stories about how Hollywood studios pay a lot of attention to this major fan event because so many big budget movies these days are based on comic books. There are press conferences, panels, promo reels and sneak previews. And lots of very famous people attend, from the realms of comic books, science fiction and film.

A regular attendee is J. Michael Straczynski, who covers all the bases by being a sci-fi novelist, TV producer and screenwriter, comic book writer and big-time Hollywood script writer. In years past, the main interest in JMS would be whether anything more would ever be happening with the universe he created for his classic five-year TV series Babylon 5. Nowadays, he is more likely to be talking about his writing of Marvel’s Spider-Man and Thor comic books or his scripts for things like a Silver Surfer movie or a remake of Forbidden Planet.

But, if there is no news forthcoming on my beloved B5, other delicious tidbits have come forth during Comic-Con’s recent four-day run. One big draw was David Tennant, who will be wrapping his four-year run as the titular character in Doctor Who. Rumors were rife that there would be an announcement of him starring in a new Doctor Who feature film, but it seems to have come to naught. But there was plenty of information (and new trailers) forthcoming regarding the special November episode “The Waters of Mars” and the Christmas special “The End of Time.” On another front, both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, attending in support of their new film version of Alice in Wonderland, were reported to have confirmed separately that their next project would be the long-rumored Dark Shadows movie and that shooting would take place next year. Can Cannes really offer anything to compete with that kind of excitement? I think not.

Like the Festival de Cannes, Comic-Con is something I’ve never had the pleasure to attend. But I have attended a few science fiction conventions in my time. The first was in Los Angeles back in the early 1970s. There is no way I would ever have made the journey from Bakersfield over the mountains to the bright lights of L.A. without Ed and Jake. My best friend Eric and I had been comic book aficionados from a young age, and by the time we were in high school we were already producing our own. I wrote and drew mine, and Eric wrote and drew his. But our best products were the ones that I wrote and Eric drew. Eric was always a fantastic illustrator, a gift that was sadly squandered, as his always interesting life progressed. I have no doubt that he could have been a very successful commercial artist if he had not been lured by the siren song of dropping out of high school to deliver automobiles for car dealers, drive forklifts and spray-paint sheets of steel. Me, I couldn’t draw to save my life. But I could come up with story ideas and fill up speech balloons with dialog. I was going to be the next Stan Lee.

Eric and I talked at length about heading to New York together and breaking into the comic book business. Personally, I would have done it. Just as soon as I was finished with getting my master’s degree. Unfortunately, by then Eric and I had actually visited New York and he had a very bad reaction to the place. There was no way he would ever relocate there. Besides, by that time, he was firmly ensconced in the family retail business in rural western Washington and had no intention of leaving behind his fast cars and loose women. No, we had gone our separate ways, and the dream of producing the next immortal super-hero title was on hold forever.

But for one glorious moment back in our high school days, it all seemed possible. The turning point was when we met Ed and Jake. I don’t even remember (if I ever knew) how Eric met Ed. But their common interest in comic books sealed the friendship, and I was soon brought into the circle. Ed was a bit older than us, and he was a serious collector. Every time he bought a comic book, he bought two copies—one to read and one to immediately seal in plastic and keep preserved. I was a pretty compulsive collector myself, but it never occurred to me to pay twice for the same content. Of course, Ed today may well be living off the proceeds of selling his pristine collection of rare first edition comics. Ed had plans to start his own comic book company. He was way ahead of us in terms of writing and drawing his own comics. His looked like the real thing. Those of his friend Jake looked even better. Jake was an illustrator who easily could have been working professionally. His work was beautiful. With their guidance, we were sure that our careers as the creators of super-heroes and graphic novels were assured.

Before our plans could come to fruition, though, events on the other side of the world intervened. There was a war going on Vietnam. The draft was plucking up young men as they turned 18. The Nixon Administration decided to end student deferments, and we all had to think about the draft. Ed’s solution was to enlist, as I recall, in the Air Force. Off he went for training, and we never saw him again. I don’t know if he ever wound up in Vietnam, but I have reason to believe that he is still around and teaching illustration to this day. On a visit home years later, I stopped by his house to try to collect something of mine. His father wouldn’t let me near his prized collections and informed me that he was married and living in Montana or somewhere. Ed had asked to borrow (temporarily, he assured me) a series of comic books I had created in junior high school. They were about a secret agent named Wellington Noble. They weren’t great, but they were mine, and I have always been keen on holding on to my own creations. To this day, I have never gotten them back.

One thing I will always be grateful to Ed for, however, is that one wonderful day he loaded up Eric, Jake and me in his car and drove us to Los Angeles to the science fiction convention. But more about that next time.

-S.L., 30 July 2009

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