Bill Turner is guy who’s been impressing me for over 40 years. I first met him when I was a kid attending the early ITHACON Comic Conventions. As a college student, my school was located in town so I joined the Comic Club of Ithaca and helped out a bit on a few legendary ITHACON conventions. And now, teaching at Ithaca College, it’s a privilege and an honor to work with him again (along with Professor Katharine Kittredge, Carmela Merlo and many other impressive folks) on ITHACON.
And with that, I have a real treat this week. I’m turning over the reins of With Further Ado to Bill Turner, as he’s the guest columnist this week with a fascinating tale of comics and fandom – from 1977. Take it away, Bill!
Sept. 10-11, 1977
Penn Stroud Hilton Inn, Stroudsburg PA
by Bill Turner
©2020 William R. Turner III – all rights reserved
Advertised guests of honor: Ellie Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman
Other scheduled guests: Michael Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Charles Vess, Steve Hickman, Ken Kelley, Ian and Betty Ballantine
Surprise guests: Will Eisner, Burne Hogarth, Jerry Robinson
In September of 1977, I decided to attend the Frazetta 1977 exhibit in Stroudsburg, PA that was being organized by Charlie Roberts and Chuck Miller. I had met them both at the Lancaster Comic Art Convention that they held in 1975 and 1976, and I had bought an item or two of artwork from Charlie and the first of the Underwood-Miller books from Chuck, so I was on their mailing list. We had just bought a house, so I was quite busy and planned to go down only for Saturday; it was a bit over three hours each way, a day trip. I invited Tim Gray and Aaron Pichel to join me, and they accepted. We are three of the founding members of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca and had run two ITHACON conventions by that time, so of course we could talk about comics all day, any day. I was 25, Tim 24, and Aaron 15 years old.
The exhibit itself was a lot of fun, especially as there wasn’t a big crowd so there was plenty of opportunity to look at Frazetta’s paintings and drawings and chat with the guests. Frank himself did not attend, but his wife Ellie represented him. At the time, the Frazettas valued the 40 or so paintings, the comic book covers, and several drawings in the exhibit collectively at one million dollars, which seemed like a huge amount, and Charlie had had to obtain insurance in that amount as well as hire private security. Of course, now Frazetta’s single paintings have sold at auction for over 5 million dollars.
As closing time approached, I sought out Charlie and thanked him for having us, and said that we were heading home. He got a funny look on his face and said that “some of us” – meaning the organizers and guests – “are going over to Frank’s place” after the exhibit, and he thought I might like to come along. He had forgotten to mention this to me earlier! I told him that I’d love to come, but that I had Tim and Aaron with me, so it would have to be the three of us. Charlie thought for a moment then said, “Let me check with Ellie.” He came back a few minutes later and said that Ellie said it was OK, and gave us directions – as I recall, they included looking for a red mailbox with no name on it. We called home to say that we’d be later than expected and went off to get dinner before meeting everyone at the Frazetta’s house.
I didn’t know what to expect at the Frazetta’s. At the exhibit, Ellie had proved to be charming and outgoing, but Frank’s reputation was of being somewhat of a recluse – hence his not appearing at his own exhibit. Now there were nearly 20 of us converging on his house. When we arrived, Frank proved to be a very congenial host, welcoming even to the “nobodies” like me, telling stories and encouraging others to do so. He showed us around the house, where several of his paintings were hanging, and in general acted as if it was a party that he’d personally invited us all to.
One of the stories Frank told was about getting the commission to paint the poster for the then-upcoming Clint Eastwood movie, The Gauntlet. One day, the phone rang; Ellie answered it, and came back to where Frank was working and said “Frank, it’s Clint Eastwood on the phone.” Frank said, “Tell him I said he’s an asshole for calling here and telling me he’s Clint Eastwood, and hang up on him.” Now, if you had met Ellie, you would know that it would be very unusual for her to use such language. Nevertheless, she dutifully went back to the phone and said, “Frank said to tell you that you’re an asshole for calling here and saying you’re Clint Eastwood,” and hung up. A few minutes later, the phone rang again, and after answering it, Ellie came back and said “Frank, I think it might actually be Clint Eastwood.” Frank had a brief “oh, shit” moment, went to the phone, and it was in fact Clint Eastwood wanting to know if Frank would do the poster for his new movie. Frank was somewhat of an Eastwood fan, and it turned out that Eastwood was also somewhat of a Frazetta fan, and so the deal was made. Eastwood and Sondra Locke flew out to discuss the poster design and pose for it. See the References below.
Fairly early in the evening, the professionals got to talking about problems with conventions. I believe this started with why Frank only rarely attended conventions. This was in the very early days of comic conventions, and most were fan events that were run very unprofessionally. One issue that was raised was being advertised as a guest at a convention when you have not accepted the invitation – or perhaps not even received an invitation. I chimed in on this, saying that last October I had gone to a convention at Kent State University because Will Eisner was advertised as a guest, and it turned out that he had never accepted their invitation. The convention organizers decided that if they corrected their ads in the Comic Buyer’s Guide, people would not attend. They were right! Unfortunately, some of us traveled quite a way to meet Will Eisner only to discover that we’d been hoaxed.
At this, Frank said, “You know, he’s coming tomorrow.” No, I didn’t know that; he was not in any of the advertising for the exhibit. Frank said yes, he was pretty sure Eisner was coming. I asked if we could know for sure, because if he was, I was staying over. Frank said I could call Eisner to confirm it, and offered me Eisner’s phone number and the use of Frank’s phone. This led to one of the most memorable phone calls I’ve ever had:
“Hello, is this Will Eisner? My name is Bill Turner, and you don’t know me, but Frank Frazetta gave me your number and I’m calling from his house. Frank said you might be coming to the Frazetta exhibit tomorrow and if you are, I’m going to stay over to meet you.” I added that I’d gone to Kent to see him at the convention where he was advertised, and he told me that he knew about that and had never accepted their invitation. Then he said, “I think we’re coming, but Hogarth is arranging it, so why don’t you call and check with him?” And he gave me Burne Hogarth’s phone number.
On to my next call: “Hello, is this Burne Hogarth? My name is Bill Turner, and you don’t know me, but Will Eisner gave me your number and I’m calling from Frank Frazetta’s house. Will Eisner said you and he might be coming to the Frazetta exhibit tomorrow…” Yes, Hogarth agreed, he thought they were coming, but actually if they did, Jerry Robinson would drive. So why didn’t I call Jerry Robinson to see? And he gave me Jerry Robinson’s phone number.
On to my third call: “Hello, is this Jerry Robinson? My name is Bill Turner, and you don’t know me, but Burne Hogarth gave me your phone number and I’m calling from Frank Frazetta’s house. Burne Hogarth said that you, he, and Will Eisner might be coming to the Frazetta exhibit tomorrow…” Yes, Jerry confirmed, they were coming for Sunday.
We stayed at the Frazetta’s for another hour or so, then, wanting to be sure we didn’t overstay our welcome, took our leave while the pros were still talking. We found a pay phone to call home and say that we would be even later getting home – Sunday evening, not Saturday – found a drugstore to buy toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear, and T shirts, and went back to the motel and checked in for the night.
On Sunday, Will Eisner, Burne Hogarth, and Jerry Robinson did indeed arrive. Again, it was not crowded, so we had plenty of opportunity to talk with them and to listen in to their conversations with the other pros. They set out to do a panel discussion, but Hogarth, on hearing that there were a number of students from the year-old Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, announced “I will do a chalk talk” and proceeded to take over the session. Much of his talk was about the importance of not learning to draw comics by studying only comics, that professional success comes from what you bring to the comics that is new to them. He gave numerous examples, beginning with himself, of well-known comics artists who started by studying other areas of artwork. It was a very interesting and energetic presentation, even if he did pretty much shut out the other guests.
My copy of the Frazetta Memory Book is signed by Eisner, Kurtzman, Hogarth, Robinson, Hickman, Kaluta, Vess, and Wrightson. The only opportunity I would have had to get Frazetta’s autograph would have been at his house, and I would have been very uncomfortable asking for it while we were there. He treated us as guests in his home, and that didn’t feel like proper guest behavior.
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For more information, click here: Frazetta 1977
The Frazetta 1977 exhibit as recalled by Charlie Roberts: http://fritzfrazetta.blogspot.com/2011/09/frazetta-1977-exhibit.html
More on the creation of the movie poster for The Gauntlet: http://capnscomics.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-gauntlet-by-frank-frazetta-and.html
An image of Frank Frazetta, Clint Eastwood and the completed painting for The Gauntlet: https://www.reddit.com/r/OldSchoolCool/comments/aauj8y/clint_eastwood_frank_frazetta_holding_the_poster/.
Jerry Robinson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Robinson