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April 26, 2010

Ink Stains 17: Graphic Illusions

Sometimes the best art comes in small – or in this case, thin – publications. Graphic Illusions boasted some pretty big name artists in its only issue.

Graphic Illusions, Summer 1971

Editor and Publisher: Rob Gustaveson, Jeffrey and Robert Gluckson

Graphic Illusions was a one-shot, the combination of the sixth issue of Guts (the magazine with intestinal fortitude!) by Rob and Jeff Gluckson and the fourth issue of Robert Gustaveson’s Eon. This combination was done to fulfill subscription holders, but the contents hold together well enough that you would never know.

Though primarily a showcase for the art of George Barr (working over several artists’ unfinished pieces), a Steve Ditko Mr. A story, and an EC article, there was still room for a few other illustrations within the fanzine. The only article was actually reprinted from another fanzine, Johnny Chambers’s Ymir. Titled “Inside EC by Jerry Kolden,” it was written with information provided by EC insider Kolden, and actually has a few small revelations (to me, at least). The major theme of the article is that it was not William C. Gaines that should have received the lion’s share of the credit for EC’s success (or more correctly, the high level of the content of the legendary if short-lived comic line), but the artists and writers themselves. A small group of creators, including Wally Wood, Ross Andru, Roy Krenkel, and Dick Ayers, offered to help a struggling Gaines and his slowly deteriorating line of kiddie comics and biblical adaptations for a less than standard fee, but with one caveat…they would have complete and utter control of the content. That is why EC was so ground-breaking and so good, in Kolden’s opinion. From that small start (and many title changes, as you will see from the article), great titles like Weird Fantasy and Tales from the Crypt emerged. There are several EC related illustrations gracing the article, including ones by artists such as Krenkel, Williamson, Wood, and as seen below, incredible draftsman George Evans.

As for the hows and whys of Editor Robert Gustaveson’s place in fandom, he stated via email that “… it was the sunday funnies that drew me into reading comics. One of the first comics I bought was an Action comic with Brainiac on the cover. Then I acquired all of them: DC at first, including Superman, Detective, Batman, Lois Lane (Superman’s Girl Friend), Jimmy Olsen (Superman’s Pal), Showcase, Brave and Bold and literally every title during the 1960’s. They never did put out a Perry White Comic.

“Soon I was collecting every single Marvel, including Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Journey Into Mystery (Thor), Dr. Strange/Shield (Strange Tales), X-men, Hulk, Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish), Iron Man, etc.  This lead me to Pre-Marvel Atlas comics with fantasy stories by Williamson, Ditko, Kirby and many others.  And then into Charlton and finally into EC comics and I owned 80 % of those.

“Then the quest for certain artists began and that lead me to paperback book illustrators and even Everett Raymond Kinster, Hal Foster, Hogarth, Alex Raymond, and many others, including James Bama.

“It was however Wally Wood’s Witzend #1 that got me into comic book fanzines. It had Frazetta, Wally Wood, Ditko and the EC crowd. And so in approximately 1965, I put out Beyond Infinty #1.

“I attended the San Diego Comic Book Convention (I think the 2nd one ever), then started attending World Science Fiction Conventions, and later started going to LASFS at Palms Recreation Playground with a lot of people including SF/Fantasy Authors and awesome artists like George Barr, Tim Kirk, Alicia Austin and Wendi Fletcher Pini. Bruce Pelz befriended me after the breakup of my first girlfriend. I met Phil Castora, Jack Harness, Ed Buchman, several sexy ladies. I used to take my girlfriends there as it was my social hour.

“I think Cherokee Bookstore in Hollywood was the instrumental and pivotal place where I met Robert Gluckson. This opened many doorways. His father was a psychologist who had Robert Crumb art framed on his wall. I am friends with him and his Mom and brother to this day.”

Tim Kirk, one of the artists the editor mentioned, is a well known fantasy artist today. At the time of this fanzine’s publication in 1971, Kirk was on the cusp of his professional career, as he told me via email. “My first professionally published piece was the cover art for a DAW book: Under the Green Star by Lin Carter, in 1972.” Kirk had been involved in fandom for a few years. “I can’t recall exactly which fanzine published my first drawings, but a likely candidate would be the Tolkien Journal, volume 3, #1 in 1967 – my entry into fan art was through Tolkien fandom. I was in junior college at the time.” Kirk goes on to detail more of his fan favorites with, “there were several fanzines that I felt a particular bond with, either because of subject matter or personality, and that I tended to submit to on a regular basis; Amra, Mythlore and Mythprint, Dick Geis’ Science Fiction Review/The Alien Critic, Charlie Brown’s Locus, Mike and Susan Glicksohn’s Energumen…there were many more, of course. It was the golden age of print fanzines, if there ever was one, and I shared the spotlight with several wonderful artists – Alicia Austin, George Barr, Mike Gilbert, Bill Rotsler, Steve Fabian…quite an impressive pantheon. Being a fan artist brought me into contact with a lot of truly amazing talents: L. Sprague de Camp, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch…I’ve been on convention panels with Vaughn Bode’ and Alan Lee, and a costume ball judge at Comic-Con. I’ve been very, very fortunate.”

Since those self publishing days long ago, Kirk has gone on to do a host of high profile works. He states that, “after I graduated from college in 1973 with a master’s degree in illustration, I entered corporate America (Hallmark Cards, Current, Inc. and, for 22 years, Walt Disney Imagineering); as a result (mainly from sheer lack of time) my fan art activity dwindled to a trickle. Since 2002 I (with my brother and sister-in-law, who also worked at Disney) have been partners in Kirk Design Inc. (kirkdesigninc.com), doing basically the same sort of work we did at Imagineering: conceptual theme park and museum design. We’ve had several interesting projects, including the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, the Mini-Time Machine (a museum of miniatures) in Tucson, and the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington. I still do some book and magazine illustration and private commissions…last year I produced a couple of new paintings for a museum dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien scheduled to open soon in Europe.” As for his collaboration with Barr on the piece above, he succinctly states that, “All I can say is that George went FAR beyond the sketch I did!”

In the several pages of explanations that Barr himself offers on the portfolio that is the meat of the fanzine (prompted by editor Gustaveson and springing from an evening of sketching with Wendy Fletcher, later Wendy Pini), he talks about the Kirk piece. “He merely outlined the character but indicated nothing at all of tone or shadow. The combination of Tim’s grotesque little cartoon character and my almost sculptural rendering of it made it look like nothing quite so much as an imitation Hannes Bok.” Barr himself has gone on to do many works of comic art though the years, but this folio shows a wide variety of subject matter and tone. It appears that pencil was used to finish the various pieces, several of which you see below. You will see Barr again later when I cover another issue of The Collector.

Robert Gustaveson also wrote a few words (actually, more than a few, as you will see…the man has enthusiasm!) on the subject of George Barr and this wonderful set of images. The largely unaltered text runs below.

a diary 1965–1971

(Early fannish experiences)

I always felt the George Barr Folio Collaboration was, somehow, incomplete. I wanted there to be an introduction page and also for there to be fancy type font sharing George’s magnanimous words.

Subconsciously I probably blamed my co-conspirators – I mean co-publishers Rob and Jeff Gluckson for not laying out the folio as I wanted or for just typing Barr’s wonderful description on two pieces of typewriter paper. I always felt I was destined to do graphic design for a living (so you see why I like computers and the internet). People confuse me with Rob a lot. He was always known to me as Pagan Rob or Mythra. But now I see him as a conservative school teacher & “distance learning” innovator. Jeff is an actor and pianist. I am somewhere between artist and writer and comic book salesman and philosopher and web page designer.

Rob Gluckson once lived in a tree house in a forest for a few years – I always admired that. To say nothing of him hitchhiking around the country. Rob and Jeff are my closest friends to this day. Though we do not see each other often.

Together we published Graphic Illusions in 1971. None of us made a dime on the project (that I know of – I know I did not). If we had we would have shared it with the contributors (as far as I am concerned). I asked them recently what the print run was and got different answers.  We all agree that the two print runs were under 2400 copies! I say the overrun folio was 200 copies! I wonder to this day why we were all inspired to publish our zines and connect with others who also did. We connected back then with a lot of other comic and fanzine editors.

I published the George Barr Folio in 1971 as the central eight pages in my fanzine Graphic illusions. Indeed, all I had to do was ask George Barr or Tim Kirk for a sketch back then and they’d comply. Free.

I went to the 1968 (or was it 1969, I’ve never been good with time) World SF Con in Saint Louis. I had a really great time at the masquerade (really creative costumes) and formal banquet (with white table cloths), photographing pros and meeting people. But when I walked into the art show and I was literally floored. I was shocked by the quality of art and I have still not recovered . I spent innumerable hours gawking at works by people I had never heard of until then and many who I had heard of as well.  I witnessed originals by Richard Corben (who I met) and if I recall correctly (its been 30 some years) also Kenneth Smith and (I think) Frazetta.

Later I wandered into a near empty room and ran across Vaughn Bode’ and Jeff Jones. And soon I helped them set up the art show room.  For my reward Bode’ gave me a free sketch for the help or just ’cause I asked and he was pretty nice (which later one of my friends swiped – I know who you are – give it back) and Jeff Jones did a sketch for me for $20.00! Which I cherished. Later Barr inked it and it joined the other 7 plates in this Barr Folio Collaboration. Giving it to George Barr as a thank you for rendering the folio was both a joy and a sadness.

All this seems like only yesterday and I think I was molded & enormously influenced by early SF and comic cons. Times back then were traumatic on the world stage. Today they are potentially so again. But I think the future is still bright. That before us lay another Golden Age for inhabitants in the USA and  Earth if we all use our creative intelligence rightly…in service to God and humanity (and all of nature). Selfishness could still destroy the world (as Bob Dylan sings) in the next 50 years. Or if we work together, fearlessly, united in commonality and brotherhood we can be the forerunners of a new race. All are brothers as Ghandi and the Saints of all religions pointed out –  and lived. Where no one is left out. Where giving is natural. Did you know where more people meditate crime actually falls?

We of the fannish circle have probably all come full circle in our lives.

I hope you enjoy this incredible folio. I believe it inspired the Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck and other collaborations too that came after.

George Barr struck me as kind and gentle. I used to drive him and sometimes David Gerold to LASFS or LASFS sponsored poker parties when I was young. I drove people at high speeds in my 1956 midnight blue Cadillac (with power windows). Several times my girlfriend Sharon was with me. I’m sure Cerebus was based on the wit of Bruce Pelz.

George was enormously generous with his art. And I never guessed how he really made a living. I hope you can all check out his book Upon The Winds Of Yesterday. His full color ball point pen work (which looks like painting) is a marvel to this very day.

Rob Gluckson can attest I had a lot of friends since I was the first one with wheels. Jim Shull may or may not have been impressed with my driving. But the person with the wheel and the brakes thinks he’s got everything under control. The others in the car don’t usually feel that way (everyone is really a control freak). We used to drive pretty fast near Olympic Park and up in the hills of Monte Mar Drive in L.A.

Actor/muscian Bill Mumy lived a few doors down from Robert Gluckson.

Gluckson was the inspiration for me to go to Saint Louis Comic Con (first time on a plane). Once there he did his own thing – and rarely did I see him ’til it was time to return. I and Keith Tucker and Mike Bennett (they also became animator’s) lived in the San Fernando Valley.  We’d have car chases for fun – luckily no one was every hurt. We all belonged to SMASH – a comic book club.

We were artists, publishers and writers. My life consisted of that plus going to Cherokee, Argosy, Bond St. Bookstore and Collector’s bookstore (and a few others) weekly to acquire comics or books with great art. I guess I was always into art. Joe Pearson later entered the fray and became a damn good artist too. He witnessed some interesting experiences at a couple of SF cons (friends of mine having too much fun). Articles unto themselves.

Gluckson opened the doorway for me to meet Ken Rudolph – filmmaker, Mike Royer – comic artist, Jim Warren from Warren Publications. At this amazing World SF con I met and photographed Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Norman Spinrad, Robert Block, Harry Harrison, George Clayton Johnson (I think), and others.

Wendi Fletcher is Wendy Pini who created Elfquest. I use to look though her drawings in the good old days.

Tim Kirk became  a member of the staff of Imagineering at Disney. Published a books called Kirk Works (smart dude got all us fanzine editors to print his work for free).

My comic collecting friend (from my youth) Jim Shull also became an animator. I enjoyed the layout of his early fanzines (they were very cleanly designed).

I do not recall meeting Jim Nielson but it is possible I did so at LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) where later, next door, from 1986 – 1996 I owned a small but mighty comic book store (parking issues they could never get over…ug).

I have always marveled at Alicia Austin’s early work.  Her line drawings were so sensuous and alive. They were crafted with detail unsurpassed.

Yesterday’s Lily is my favorite art book by the great Jeff Jones. Only The Studio comes close to satisfying my fantasy art addiction.

Cathy Hill was always a joy to run into at LASFS or a SF con – she’d offer her musical art at these SF cons. Some of her work will strike a chord of beauty few can sound.  I love her smile and kind nature.

I’m trying to give you the flavor of those early conventions and experiences. This is a first draft history I can build upon it in the future.

We live in a dynamically changing Universe. So inspired by these people was I that I enrolled in Burne Hogarth’s art classes at Otis Parsons.

I threw hundreds of autograph parties for comic and SF artists and authors from Jack Kirby to Stan Lee and Dave Stevens to Doug Wildey. Harlan Ellison took me to dinner once and I think he gave me tickets to the Director’s Guild to see Bladerunner there – nice place! In fact he was in the 13th row from the front to the right of me.

But to return to the George Barr Folio Collaboration.

Bjo Trimble used to let a bunch of us come over to her house to do creative stuff or costume events. She helped keep Star Trek on the air – that is, her letter writing campaign helped keep Star Trek around.

Let us not forget that Steve Ditko contributed (in the literal sense) a Mr. A story for this fanzine. See the back cover below.

There is so much more from the prolific Gustaveson. You can see much of it on his website here. He says nowadays he is “just enjoying life and seeing my kids and grandkids.  Making webpages and videos is my new hobby.  I hope to get a real job someday.”

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Robert Gustaveson for his help with this installment…heck, probably half the word count is his! Also, thanks to Tim Kirk and Alicia Austin for saying yes to my requests for personal involvement. I was asked to not have the whole fanzine downloadable, unfortunately. But if I mentioned something you want to see, let me know and I am sure I can get it for you. For now,  you can see some George Barr art here (but nowhere near as much as you should see!). You can check out Wendy Pini’s official Elfquest site as well. Alicia Austin’s enchanting work can be seen here. Jeffrey Jones is on facebook and posts new art very frequently. Stephen Fabian has a brand new site here, with tons of old stuff, as well as incredibly beautiful color paintings! Also, see Tim Kirk’s journey at his company site.

Please, leave comments and pass this along to any friends you think might be interested! Who knows what the next installment of Ink Stains will bring!

Ken Meyer Jr.