I’ve told this story before, but recent events invite its retelling: It was in the early days of Wizard‘s existence that I was invited to write for the fledgling magazine. The invitation came from Pat O’Neill, a former editor at ComicScene who had bought my articles before. He offered me twice what I’d been getting from ComicScene. It’s important to note that these were not halcyon days for me, friends. I was struggling financially. And at home, I had two in diapers.

One day, I received a call from O’Neill asking if I’d be interested in doing a feature on Barry Smith.

“Sure,” I said. “I loved his work on Conan.” So the very next day, I attempted to contact Barry. One of his assistants, a woman, answered the phone. I explained that I was calling on behalf of Wizard and asked for an interview.

“Barry doesn’t give phone interviews,” she said. “You’ll have to fax your questions and he’ll review them. If he’s interested, he’ll get back to you.”

It wasn’t what she said so much as the way she said it. Really snotty. So I’ll admit I was a little put off. In my career as a freelance journalist with the L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire and about four-dozen magazines, I’d interviewed lots of people from John Scully (C.E.O. of Apple Computers) to Frank Zappa; from Howard Stern to Mickey Mantle; poets, playwrights, actors and actresses; scientists, athletes and religious leaders. And if I’d only learned one thing at that point in my career it was this: A fish rots from the head. When someone’s –people– act that way, it’s coming from the top.

But there are exceptions. So I persisted.

I typed up a list of questions and proceeded to fax them the next morning. Later that afternoon, I received a call. It was O’Neill. He informed me that I was off the story.

“What happened?” I asked.
“They said you were rude to them,” Pat reported.
“They said I was rude?”
“And they said you called him ‘Mister Smith’ in your fax.”
“Isn’t that his name?” I asked.
“It’s Windsor-Smith,” said O’Neill.

I squinted, ran my hand through my beard, then said, “Hang on a minute.” I ran downstairs and pulled out my autograph book. Then I grabbed my copy of Conan #1. Then I ran back to the phone. “I have Conan #1 in my hand,” I said to O’Neill, still out of breath. “The credits say Roy Thomas and Barry Smith. I also have my autograph book. Barry signed it at the first MarvelCon… Here it is. ‘Best wishes–Barry Smith.'”

“He changed it,” said O’Neill.
“Gosh,” I said. “I feel like such a fool! How could I have missed such an important news item?”
“You’re off the story,” said O’Neill.
“At least let me call and apologize,” I offered. “I don’t want to leave it like this.”
Ok, said, O’Neill. Call and apologize.

So I called again the next morning again. “This is Clifford Meth,” I said to the person who answered the phone at the Windsor-Smith Studios. At least I assumed it was a person. “I’m calling from Wizard magazine and?”
“I thought we made it clear that you shouldn’t call here.”
“Who am I speaking with?” I asked.
“This is Alex Bialy. I’m the office manager.”
“What did I do wrong?” I asked.
“You don’t even know Mr. Windsor-Smith’s last name,” said Bialy. “Now you’re not to call here again. Do you understand?” And with that, he hung up.

I sat there for a moment waiting for the feeling to come back into my head. Then I felt it. I was hurt.

So, like an idiot, I called back again.
“Bialy?” I asked.
“This is Clifford Meth. Just answer one question: What the hell is your problem?”
But I never did get the answer because he hung up. And that afternoon, Pat O’Neill called me to tell me I was fired.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. O’Neill should have backed me up. Yessir. I agree.

You’re also thinking there’s an odd chance that this was all put in motion by Bialy, not Windsor-Smith; that the big boss knew nothing of these events. Well, I thought that, too. So I called Windsor-Smith’s home and left a message on his answering machine. The message was brief, explanatory, and apologetic. I left my phone number. Repeated it twice. Slowly.

But I never did get a return call.

That, my friends, was a decade ago. Why recall it now? Well, recently, I received an email from one of Barry Windsor-Smith’s associates?an artist of acclaim whose work I admire very much. Like so many of his peers?most, in fact?he was contributing to The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute book that I’m editing for Aardwolf Publishing. And he wanted to know why Windsor-Smith had not been invited.

So I phoned this artist and told him the story. He wasn’t the least bit surprised.

“Look,” I said. “I’m a forgiving guy. Just tell Barry to call me. I’ve always admired his work on Conan.”

But Windsor-Smith didn’t call. Instead, another artist phoned on his behalf. He said that Windsor-Smith was worried. He feared that if he contributed a piece to the book (a project I’ve been working on for months) I might reject it.

“Tell him to call me,” I said. “Here’s my phone number.”

But Windsor-Smith didn’t call. Then, a day before the deadline, Aardwolf Publishing’s secretary received an email from none other than Alex Bialy. The note said that Windsor-Smith’s art would be arriving a little late and that Aardwolf should hold open a place for it. It also insisted on knowing full details of the benefit auction, distribution of the book’s proceeds, and so forth.

Aardwolf’s secretary sent Bialy the following reply: “Clifford Meth is the editor of The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute. Ask Barry to call him.” Then she gave him my phone number.

But Windsor-Smith didn’t call. Instead, I received an email from Bialy. It said that Windsor-Smith would be contributing to the book and asked for my Fed Ex number so they could charge me for the shipping.

I replied very clearly: “Ask Barry to call me.”

As of this writing, I have not received a call. But I have thought about this situation long and hard, friends. I’ve meditated on it and fasted for days in an effort to humble my soul. I’ve looked into the deepest depths of my being and decided that I should forgive Barry Windsor-Smith for what he did to me (and what I can only imagine he’s done to others). Even if I am beneath personally calling.

It’s unfair to hold royalty to the standards of common courtesy when, after all, those standards are so common. And Windsor-Smith is a most uncommon man. His work is so brilliant, in fact, that I think it unfair to subject it to indifferent eyes. A collection of sketches by mere “comic” artists has no place in the same publication as a Windsor-Smith rendering.

Further, I think it unfair to subject someone as important as Barry Windsor-Smith to my unworthy company; unfair to ask him to descend from Olympus and grace this editor?whose career he offhandedly stepped on as if it were a bug?with his divine etchings of unparalleled perfection.

So, no, my friends?Barry Windsor-Smith will not be appearing this evening.

Clifford Meth

Clifford Meth is the author of the forthcoming god’s 15 minutes (Aardwolf Publishing). He is also editing the forthcoming Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute, which will include art and unpublished writings from just everybody in the industry.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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