There’s a quote from C.S. Lewis above Walt Simonson’s desk. It says, “Every Poet & Musician & Artist, but for grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till down in deep hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about him.”
The significance to Simonson is plain: Never forget that the entire purpose of comics as a medium is to tell a story. “It’s not to razzle-dazzle ’em with your fancy footwork,” he’s noted. “It’s not to wow them with your spectacular rendering, or blow them away with special effects in Photoshop. You can do all that stuff; but it should be in the service of the story. Always keep the story in mind; not the telling of it.”
Simonson has logged more than three decades of non-stop, superlative storytelling. He was part of that first generation of fans to turn pro, but unlike many of his peers who entered the game in those days, he’s neither burnt out nor faded away. When last we left off, he was talking about the four letters he’d seen published during his fan days as a Marvel reader. Let’s dive right in there:
Walter Simonson: The great part about those letters was they [Marvel] used to publish your name and address, which they don’t do anymore?lots of books don’t even have letters pages anymore?but they published the whole thing back then. Anyway, my name was misspelled in one of the books, Dr. Strange I think?they spelled it Simonsen with an “sen” and the result was that I knew where I was getting junk mail from because it was all misspelled. [laughter]
Clifford Meth: That’s funny. Were you involved in any of the fanzines back then?
WS: Not in comics fanzines. I don’t know what kind of comics stuff there was at the time. I know by the time I was in college and reading Marvel comics there were mail order places?there were guys that were probably selling out of their houses or their Mom’s basements, I suppose. You could get back issues of comics and, you know?for heaven sakes, Fantastic Four #1 in “good” was like seven dollars! I’m not paying seven bucks for a comic book! So I didn’t get a copy of that first issue because it was a lot of money back then. But I got a few back issues where I could afford them.
CM: I’m talking about fanzines. You know, like?
WS: Oh, as far as ‘zines and fans drawing comics, I didn’t see any comics ‘zines for a long time. I first saw them after I graduated from college. I spent a year, and then some time in the summers after that, working in a book store down in College Park, MD, where I grew up. By that time, I was also reading a lot of science fiction. I was in the paperback department, so I took care of the paperbacks in the science fiction section, and it was my ambition at the time?and you know things were pretty free and easy back then?to have a copy of every science fiction paperback that was in print, which at the time was pretty much an achievable goal?I don’t know about now.
But when I worked there at the beginning, we had a shelf that was maybe five-feet long with science fiction paperbacks on it. And by the time I was done we had?oh, I don’t know, seven or eight shelves that were probably 12-feet long, and both sides were all science fiction. And the result was we started getting readers of science fiction coming in and I met some of those guys. Some of them were connected to WSFA, which was the Washington Science Fiction Association, J. Halderman was the president back then, and his brother Joe had just come back from Vietnam. So I met those guys and I became a member of the club for a while. Alexis Gilliland and his wife ? late wife now, Doll ? had the apartment in DC while the meetings were held there, and they put out a ‘zine called The WSFA Journal, which came out I think on a quarterly basis. And I ended up doing some drawings for that, so some of my first drawings in any kind of public forum were for The WSFA Journal. And mostly science fiction fantasy type stuff. They kind of took whatever you did [laughs] which was very nice of them.
CM: When I was last at your house, which was about a decade ago, you had three drawing tables going at the same time, and this row of deep, built in shelves that allowed you to pull out boxes from your comic collection. I remember being startled by the amount of books. Are you still collecting?
WS: I don’t read anywhere near as much as I once did. I look through a lot of stuff now. If something catches my eye, I’ll stop and I’ll read it. I collect a lot of it, but there are a lot of things I don’t collect now. I’ve kind reached the point where the house is kind of full. [laughs] So I end up without a place to put things and I sort of feel that if you have to rent storage space to put stuff in, you’ve lost. Even though I understand that one line of thought is, “whoever has the most stuff when he dies wins.”
CM: During the recent San Diego Con, I stopped by Harlan Ellison’s for breakfast. When I arrived, Harlan was standing there in his underwear bagging his comics. I looked at his dumbfounded and I said, “I’m shocked that you still do this?” And he said, “Stand around in my underwear?” and I said, “No?stand around bagging comics.” He looked at me like I was out of my mind and he said, “Clifford, I’m 70 years old. I’ve been doing this my entire life. I should stop now?”
WS: [laughs] I’m with him. The only thing is I don’t bag my comics. If my comics don’t last longer than me, I don’t care.
© 2004, Clifford Meth