Organized and run by the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, Ithacon is a cozy one-day show held in the ("centrally-isolated," as it is called) upstate New York town that is home to Cornell University. I think the first time I attended was because Chuck had friends at Cornell that he wanted to visit and we decided to "double dip." A few years later, both Chuck and Sammi came along when one of Sammi's friends was attending the University. Since then, it's become something of a tradition to make the five-hour drive early on Saturday morning to arrive in time for the 10:00 start, spend the day chatting with fans, friends, and fellow comics pros, and sell off some of the comic books that have accumulated over the year.
This year, with Sammi now living and teaching in Virginia and Chuck attending orientation at NYU (where he'll be going part-time for his MBA, beginning this semester), Laurie volunteered to join me for the trip, especially enthusiastically when I found a nearby orchard where we could pick apples, peaches and vegetables on Sunday. (To be fair, Laurie had intended to go with me two years ago, but while gardening a couple of days prior to the trip, she somehow got a "foreign object" embedded in her knee and ended up with her leg bandaged in such a way that she would not have been able to comfortably sit in the car nor walk around much.)
We were up at about 4:15 and on the road within an hour. The "lingering showers" that were forecast for the morning turned out to be pretty steady rain that stayed with us all the way to Scranton, PA, but then the precipitation stopped and we even had some peeks of sunshine for the rest of the drive. We arrived at just about 10:00, got settled at my table, and had a chance to say hi to some folks, just as the first fans began to arrive.
Among the familiar faces were Roger Stern (writer of Superman and numerous other comics), his wife Carmela (one of the organizers of the show), Tom Peyer (writer and a former DC editor), and Tom Hegeman (fan and fellow member of the Kappa-alpha apa group). Shortly thereafter, we were joined by Jim Shooter, who, depending on your comic book loyalties, is best known for his run as a writer of the Legion of Super-Heroes or his tenure as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics.
Jim began writing Legion stories in 1965 at the age of 14 and had moved on to work at Marvel by the time I arrived at DC in 1973, so I knew him best from the annual DC/Marvel softball games that we played in Central Park in the mid-70s.
In the third of those games, Jim hit a ball so far that it landed on an adjoining field, where a player there picked it up and threw it back. It was clearly a home run and so Jim was not going all out to get around the bases, but the DC outfielder suddenly found himself holding the ball with Jim just rounding third base. Thinking that he had a chance to get an out, he fired the ball towards home plate. Jodi Saviuk, the DC catcher, attempted to catch the ball, but it glanced off her glove and hit her in the eye. Jim, just crossing home plate, caught her as she started to fall. (Jodi ended up with a black eye, but no more serious injuries.)
The "eyewitness accounts" of the incident are quite varied, however. Some people insist that there really was a play on Jim and that had Jodi caught the ball, she would have tagged him out. Some say that Jim ran into her to prevent her from catching it and that it was his elbow, not the ball, that caused the black eye. One version, that Jim has heard, was that he was the one who threw the ball, despite the fact that it made no sense.
Though we had some time during the show to chat, it was at the dinner hosted by the Comic Book Club afterwards where we really had time to swap stories. Jim recounted his very early days in the business, working for Mort Weisinger, and his first visit to the DC offices and Mort's home in Great Neck, LI. We shared stories about Julie Schwartz, Murray Boltinoff, and other editors, writers and artists of comics' "first generation."
One of the oft-told stories of DC's early days is about a freelancer and one of the editors. In virtually every version, a freelancer comes to the office to deliver his work and pick up a check. The editor for whom he has done the job is on vacation and the check is in the hands of another editor. Rather than just hand over the check, said editor starts going through and criticizing the work, demanding changes before he will release the check. The freelancer becomes enraged, picks up the editor and threatens to toss him out the window if he does not hand over the check.
Just as with the softball game story mentioned above, the details vary, depending on the version of the story told.
In some, the freelancer is a writer, while in others it is an artist. The version I'd heard, told to me by Julie Schwartz, was that it was Dave Vern, one of his writers; Jim's, recounted to him by artist Jack Abel, was that it was artist Alex Toth and that the editor had actually ripped one of the pages of art in half. Some versions have the editor being held out the window by the ankles, while others have him bent backwards over the window sill. One, taking into account that the windows did not open (depending on which DC office the story is supposed to have taken place), has the freelancer holding the editor over his head and threatening to throw him through the glass.
Perhaps the only "fact" all the variations we've heard have in common was pointed out by Roger. "The editor is always (Robert) Kanigher."
Our post-dinner conversation went on for more than an hour and probably would have continued much longer, but since Laurie and I had been up since the wee hours of the morning, we were wearing down and needed to get back our motel.
We were up bright and early -- well, 8:00 instead of 4:15 -- yesterday morning, made our way to the orchard, and picked half a bushel of apples, twenty pounds of peaches, and fifteen pounds of tomatoes and peppers. After a stop at Chuck and Rebecca's (and a road-construction-necessitated "scenic tour" of Jersey City) to share the bounty, we were back home some 580 miles and thirty-six hours after we left.
And that was our 2009 Ithacon adventure.