Tuesday, July 04, 2017

"A Great Man In A Twit Suit"

He was hooked in a Flash.

A boyhood memory still vivid in the mind of Guy H. Lillian III.  He remembers the particular comic book issue that changed his life.

Guy: "My folks, little brother and I were visiting my grandparents in Rosamond, a bedroom town in the desert near Edwards Air Force Base. My grandmother had a basket of old magazines through which, one fateful day, I went leafing through and I chanced upon an issue of THE FLASH. The Mirror-Master was on it, beaming a light down on the Scarlet Speedster which reduced him in height. Hooked, gaffed, flopping in the floor of the boat ..."

This was back in the days when a comic book cost a dime.  Then there was a tremendous price increase to 12 cents but that didn't stop young Guy from following the adventures of the Scarlet Speedster.

For your 12 cents not only did you have stories told in four colors but also a letter department where readers via envelopes and stamps submitted their comments.  An editor would creatively title the letters page.  For the Flash it was Flash-Grams.

At that time National Periodicals/DC Comics retained the scripts and art by its creative crew after publication.  To encourage more readers to write in original scripts and art were given out as prizes to the "best" LOC writer.  Guy had a problem with how the prizes -- especially the superb artwork -- were being awarded for the dumb letters.

Guy: "...I grew annoyed at the way [Editor] Julie Schwartz was giving away artwork and scripts to the worst punsters among his Flash-Grams correspondents, and wrote him a letter complaining about it. He printed it. The rest is history ... or MY-story, as you prefer."

He became a letterhack, his frequent LOCs making him known to Schwartz and the younger DC staffers.

Guy: "Comics provided a vital world view for me, principally through my letterhacking to Schwartz. The stress of high school -- pretty much a universal experience -- was far easier to bear knowing that I had a place, a community, where I was known and my opinion valued beyond school's borders."

His letter writing would lead to his dream job.

Flash forward: Guy is living in New York City, employed as an editorial assistant at DC, getting by on $100 a week.  He was living in a safe high rise with medical students and nurses but in a rough section of town.  He didn't find East Harlem to be that bad but there was still "drama" as it calls it.  Knife fights outside his window. A suicide stretched out on the ground after a 14 story fall.   

Guy: "I have no idea how I survived on my crummy salary during my year at DC. My extra money from little writing assignments helped, but somehow I brought my girlfriend up from New Orleans twice while I was there, went to several Broadway plays, and stayed alive. As for my neighborhood, I just didn't go out much at night. It was grimy but OK during the day." 

He enjoyed his time at DC.

Guy: "My best assignment for DC Comics was writing dialog for some artwork Joe Orlando had on his shelves. I loved doing that and several of the stories were printed. Doing interviews and suchlike for AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS [magazine] was extra 'work' for which we received extra pay."

But his life ended up taking a different path after he left NYC for New Orleans.  He thought he wanted to get a Ph.D in English Literature at Tulane University but one semester convinced him it wasn't worth it.  There was his girlfriend at the time he thought was the One but that didn't work out.  He regretted leaving DC Comics more than any other job decision.

Guy would end up getting a law degree, working as a public defender in New Orleans. During that time someone described him as a great man in a twit suit.

What's a twit suit?

Guy: "Your guess is as good as mine, but I need to keep the quote. I THINK it's funny. We'll see what your readership believes!"

Guy's love of writing hasn't faded over the years: he keeps expressing himself through his fanzines like Spartacus and Challenger. 

GUY: "I'm trying to write fiction again -- at age 68 (almost) it may be a foolishness but what the hey, better than counting my teeth. I've done a draft of a 'down-home' novella I need to expand and a couple of horror stories. I was going to publish one in CHALLENGER no. 41, but my wife [Rose-Marie] insists that I should try to sell it. She's the boss. I'd love to write about my career as a lawyer, public defender work. People who have fouled up in life are fascinating, especially if they're trying to overcome their mistakes." 

He has many great fan memories including being at a SF convention with Julie Schwartz and Julie's long time friend, Ray Bradbury.

Guy: "Life has brought me into contact with some of the most fascinating people, many of them in science fiction and comics. I've interviewed Alfred Bester. I've known Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino. Poul Anderson and his wife Karen drove me to my first SF club meeting. Harlan Ellison asked me to try writing. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro adopted me as her fannish son. And there have been hundreds more. Through SF fandom I met Rose-Marie and saved my life. I've worked on program books for four worldcons, a NASFiC and two DeepSouthCons. I've formed friendships -- and enmities! -- that have lasted a lifetime."

And his legal career? 

Guy: "Being a public defender was a great privilege. I learned more about the darkness in human nature talking to charming, destructive and tragic [Charles Manson ex-follower] Leslie van Houten than a thousand classrooms could have taught me. Through some of those classrooms, though, like [poet and novelist] Fred Chappell's in North Carolina, I learned to express myself without fear. But who's to say that didn't begin with my first letter of comment to Julie Schwartz at Flash-Grams?" 


Charles Gramlich said...

Would have been great to meet Ray Bradbury

Ray Palm (Ray X) said...

I agree. But from I gather you would have to steer clear of popular interpretations of Fahrenheit 451 when talking with him.


If he were still alive one area I would have explored would be the early days of SF fandom.

X. Dell said...

1. I think I would have been more interested in meeting Harland Ellison.

2. Sounds like a very interesting journey to public defender. On some level, I can relate.