Using my customary lightning-fast, razor-sharp blogging skills I'm going to share some thoughts and pics from an event a whole week ago. Yep, there's no flies on this blogger!
Said event was NICE Comic-Con 2018 in sunny Bedford. As can be seen in the image above there were many talented comic creators in Bedford last weekend but the big draw for me was the legendary Don McGregor, one of the true greats of the Bronze Age of comics.
Don was part of an early 70s renaissance in the comic book industry - along with other such talented writers as Steve Engelhart, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber and Doug Moench he pushed the boundaries of what mainstream comic writing could be and do. It was a time of experimentation when adult themes and more sophisticated story-telling ideas began to creep into comics, building on groundwork laid by the likes of Lee / Kirby, Steranko and Eisner but with a younger, more modern sensibility. Don's work was unabashedly sentimental and romantic but still with a sharp, questioning aspect and an overwhelming love of language and words. In fact, gushing torrents of words, flooding the pages, competing for space with the art of Gene Colan, P. Craig Russell, Billy Graham and Don's other great collaborators. Don did come under criticism for this, with many feeling the words to pictures balance of "perfect" comic book story-telling was tipped unfairly in his balance, but I personally loved his style. As I said, it was an experimental era and this was Don's style... a style that could often seem verbose and overwrought... but... but... every word, every single word was ripped from Don's heart and dropped bleeding onto the page. No filter, no excuses, he gave his all to his readers and asked you to join him for the ride. Pretentious? Maybe. But it made for some glorious comic books!
Anyway, back to last Sunday...
James and I took the two and a half hour trek to Bedford ( a lovely morning drive up over the Cotswolds and down through Banbury and Milton Keynes ) and to the venue itself, the Bedford Corn Exchange. This was an impressive 19th century building, in very good repair, near to the river Great Ouse in the heart of the city.
The convention itself could be described as "compact and bijou" - and with very little in terms of cosplay or assorted media distractions, this was really about the comic artists and writers. Which is absolutely fine by me but I would have welcomed just a few more actual comics vendors, with most of the sellers on display dealing in modern stuff which I couldn't really care less about. ( I did manage to get a few issues of Master Of Kung Fu and a nice Batman #210 from 1968. )
But, apart from that, the other major draw of this con was ( finally ) meeting up with a couple of my old blog buddies. Soon after we arrived we hooked up with the man behind the wonderful
Bronze Age Of Blogs, the mega-cool Pete Doree. Pete was there to support his childhood friend, the highly-talented artist Sean Phillips... and to interview Don McGregor! luckily, Pete also had a bit of time to spare for old bloggers so we went for a drink and a chat in the coffee shop next door to the venue. It was great to catch up with Pete after following his excellent blog for so many years and we had a good old chin-wag about all things comic-book. James was probably bored out of his skull but he hid it well. After a while we headed back into the Corn Exchange for another look around, a chat with a few other punters and then it was Don time!
Here's Don ( on the left ) being interviewed by Sean Phillips ( centre ) and Pete...
Well, I say "interviewed" but the guys didn't have a chance to ask many questions! Don McGregor in full flight is like a runaway verbal express train. For a guy in his 70s who had been in attendance at the con all weekend Don was still full of passion and conviction as he told us tales of the comic book industry, from the hilarious story of his first meeting with the legendary publisher Jim Warren to his struggles with the conservative Marvel editorial staff. Of course, a lot of the talk was about the Black Panther, the African king super hero that Don inherited from Stan 'n' Jack and turned into one of the most compelling, human characters in comics. And who is now, of course, belatedly world-famous as part of the MCU, with the majority of the characters and situations in his block-busting movie stemming from the mind of guess who? Yep, that's right... Dauntless Don.
After the panel ( and after much queuing because Don gives everybody as much time as he can ) we finally got to meet the great man properly. ( I've been Facebook "friends" with Don for a number of years and we've had a few online conversations but that doesn't really count. ) Unsurprisingly, Don was an absolute delight to meet. After I babbled about being a fan for 40-plus years and introduced Don to James, Don proceeded to tell us more of his hair-raising stories of life in the comic book industry and in New York - and I lapped it all up! He told us of sneaking around Harlem late at night with the late artist Billy Graham, finding ( literally ) underground movie-houses that were run like speakeasies and showed old cowboy movies; he told us the background of the photo below - Don jumping off a wall outside the New York Public Library - and how so many of the old buildings seemed to disappear virtually overnight to be replaced by corporate monstrosities.
This is from his short story collection, Dragonflame & Other Bedtime Nightmares, which Don kindly signed for me, as well as my copy of Amazing Adventures #29 ( see above ), the first issue of his ground-breaking KIllraven strip that I ever bought. Don was interested to hear what I thought about reading the Killraven stories at the age of 8 and the Dragonflame stories in my early teens. I told him I was always reading above my expected reading age!
( Oh yeah... Paul McCartney's feet, you ask? Apparently, the lady who took the above photo of Dapper Don missed his feet out of the frame, so he cut a photo of Macca's feet out of a magazine and pasted it on. Pete said he always thought Don looked too tall in that photo... )
All too soon our time with the Dauntless One was up ( Don was understandably starting to flag by this point and he had more people to speak to ) but it was such a great experience to talk to such a warm, friendly and unbelievably energetic man. You can see from the grins on our faces how much James and I were enjoying ourselves! I'll leave the last words to Don: ( Thumps fist on table ) "If I'm going to tell a Black Panther story, I'm going to tell the best damned Black Panther story I can!"
But that wasn't all! Oh, no. I also managed to catch up with another old blog buddy and Facebook friend, Mighty Joe Ackerman aka Joe Bloke. Some of you reading ( if anyone is still reading! ) may remember Joe's late, lamented blog Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures, which was one of my go-to sources for comic artwork and, er, "fit birds" ( Joe's words not mine! ) for many a year and is sorely missed. We'd been at the con for a few hours and I was beginning to think I wouldn't get a chance to meet Joe but then he appeared like a bolt out of the blue and we were off and running!
( Here we are being rather silly. ) Just like with meeting Pete it was a joy to catch up with someone who I've only known via t'internet and who turns out to be solid gold, as if we were old ( real world ) friends reunited. We had a great time, swapping stories of blogging and comic books ( what else is there to talk about? ) and all three of us headed to the local Subway as the con wound down, where we were met by Joe's lovely better half, Mary, for more chat and laughs. It was a lovely, chilled ending to a great day out. My only regret is that I'd hoped for Joe and Pete to meet but that didn't quite work out. Maybe next time.
I'll leave you with a few shots of Bedford itself - a pretty cool place!