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Westercon 55: "Conagerie"
This article also appears substantially in issue #1 of the fanzine Crazy From the Heat
(not to be confused with the book of the same name by rocker Van Halen or the site by David Lee Roth, or for that matter, the band by that name...)

Conagerie Program Book Cover art
Cover illustration for Westercon 55/Conagerie program book. The "Conagerie" logo was not my design; I wish I had the name of the person who did the beautiful font which sports critters whose names start with the letters—Cat, Ostrich, Newt, etc. If someone seeing this has the information, please contact me. He or she or they should be acknowledged. The word balloons may not be readable from this screen. They comprise a few dialogues with fannish contexts; again, if you readlly want to know what they say, here's a close-up. The landscape and sky background was constructed with the aid of Terragen, the wonderful terrain generation program by Matt Fairclough of Planetside in the U.K.. Check out my Terragen galleries.

One day in the spring of 2001, Bruce Pelz told me he was bidding to host the Westercon fan convention in Los Angeles over the 4th of July weekend in '02, and asked if I'd like to be Artist Guest of Honor if he won the bid. Now Bruce, a bit more than half a year older than I, had been a mover and shaker in fandom for longer than I've been associated with it, which is 35 years or so. I only met him a couple of times in that time; he was based on the West Coast and I hung out most of that time on the East Coast. The first time I met him he asked if I'd like to participate in a project he had in mind, a Fannish Tarot deck, in which each card would be illustrated by a different fanartist. Sure! I did the Four of Cups; I thought it fit me. I was happy with the result (though I might have done a couple of things differently), but I was in fantastic company. Just name a fan artist or even a number of pros who were working in the 70's, and you'll probably find them represented—Atom, George Barr, Dan Steffan, Tim Kirk, Freff, Bill Rotsler, Steve Stiles, Kelly Freas, Stu Shiffman, Alicia Austin, Mike Gilbert...85 in all.

Sadly, Bruce passed away in early May, 2002, two months before the convention, which became, in effect, a striking—and so appropriate—memorial to him.

I understand Bruce was nicknamed "Elephant"; he was a big (not of pachydermal proportions, but imposing), charming fellow—when he wanted to be; I'm told he had another side to his personality, but I never bore the brunt of it.

Anyway, I was reluctant about accepting that honor, even while glowing with the egoboo—I'm not much of a convention-goer, and awkward in social situations—but he convinced me when he pointed out he was asking Robert Lichtman as Fan Guest of Honor. Robert is a friend.

Well, Bruce won the bid, and I was committed. Over the intervening time I'd write and discard things I might say in a speech and stuff like that, and try to think of cartoons or illustrations that would be appropriate. I did agree to do a cover for the program book, and the above image is the result of that effort. As it turns out, I never had to use any of the speech ideas; I did do a set of 8.5x11 color printouts—one each—of a number of my illustrations, many of which I've got right here in my galleries, and when the time came displayed them in the convention's art show. They were much outshone, both technically and imaginatively, by most of the items in the other displays, but my collection, if low-tech appearing in comparison, was at least more eclectic!

Not being a fan of flying, I rode to Los Angeles with friends Arnie & Joyce Katz and Ben Wilson (who drove). I'd had earlier thoughts about driving it myself, but as we drove westward along I-15 through Death Valley, superbly comfortable in the Katz's air conditioned car, I was grateful that everyone who'd ever heard me mention the possibility said no, don't do it. My car does not have a working A/C...

I had not selected or requested participation in any particular events at the convention, and left it up to Mike Glyer, who with Shaun Lyon headed up the programming team; as a result I found myself scheduled to be on five panels, one each day of the convention but Saturday, when there were two. As it turned out, the first, on Thursday, the 4th, was scheduled at 1:15 PM, and we were still driving in to town about that time. Needless to say I was a no-show. The topic was "Book Covers as Eye-Candy: How do artists and publishers get you to pick up this book? Is art better that way?" I would have shared it with Editor Guest of Honor Beth Meacham, fanartist and early Star Trek activist Bjo Trimble, and John Hertz, a fanwriter and scholar. Though I've never had any of my art work published in the professional SF field, and thus wasn't really qualified for the topic, I regret missing that one just for the company I'd've been keeping on that panel.

The evening was given over primarily to an open meeting of LASFS, the venerable organization putting on the convention, which was largely given over to a memorial to Bruce Pelz. It went on so long that it essentially pre-empted another scheduled event, a kind of mixer entitled "A Voyage on Noah's Ark," intended as a welcome to the convention.

The next day I was in the audience for an interview with Robert Lichtman, conducted by Arnie Katz, which was fun, and then joined a panel with the two of them and author/physicist Gregory Benford on the topic of "The Void Boys and Friends: the legend of the Void fanzine, its history...and future?" Of the four of us, Greg was the only representative of the original Void Boys, who along along with author/editors Ted White and the late Terry Carr, and Pete Graham, had published the mimeographed, and, yes, legendary, Void in the 1960s. Arnie subsequently published a fanzine titled Quip that was initially conceived as an homage to Void and went on in its own way over the next few years. I had never contributed to Void, but did covers, generally multi-paged (one of Void's innovations), for Quip during its span—one of these (a single-pager) is included in my gallery of fan art, with further links to some of the others. Initially, my work also paid homage to the work of Bhob Stewart, an artist who did covers for Void; I, too, went pretty much my own way as Quip continued publication. Some years after the apparent demise of Void Arnie and John D. Berry compiled a last edition of Void, #29, from materials, stencils, etc., that had been intended for that number, supplied by Ted, and thus they could lay some claim to Void Boyishness. In the panel, Arnie and Robert contributed a lot to the overviews of Void's place among other fanzines, but for the most part this panel turned to Greg's reminiscences of those days; a good thing, as among his many talents he is an excellent raconteur.

Bruce thanks me for showing up

That evening many of us joined the Locus Awards Banquet. I got to sit at a forward table with Elayne Pelz, Bruce's widow, who before he died had already worn several hats in the administration of the convention, including treasurer and membership coordinator. She was clearly only getting moments to relax at this dinner, but she was charming and amusing— For example, she noted, while picking at her chocolate mousse, that in addition to the standard banquet fare of rubber chicken the hotel had also provided rubber mousse for dessert. On her left was Author Guest of Honor Harry Turtledove, with some of his family. On my right was Fuzzy Pink Niven, wife of author Larry Niven, who was on her other side. I'd met her earlier, as she headed up the art show; she's almost as sweet as her name would imply, and no, I don't know if that's really her name or a fannish cognomen. Her husband was elegant in Regency costume. I've never visited any of the Regency dances at fan conventions (one was scheduled for after the banquet), nor been particularly inclined to, but I understand they're very popular among some.

One feature of the banquet was the awarding of commemorative plaques to the guests of honor; I mumbled something on receiving mine, just after Robert returned from the dais to accept his. I was introduced as Robert Chamberlain by the presenter, who apologized unneedfully (I'm easy-going), but it had thrown me off balance and I couldn't remember the few words of gratitude I'd intended to say. Robert and I had a good chuckle afterward as we left, before the speeches began, to join Arnie & Joyce and others at the fan lounge, which was where we mostly hung out when not otherwise occupied by convention events. Fan friends whom I got to see at the convention that I don't get to see that often otherwise include Belle Churchill and Eric Davis, Ken and Aileen Forman, and Toni Weisskopf and Moshe Feder (editors at Baen Books), and Art Widner. From the Las Vegas contingent (whom I see a bit more frequently) there were also Cathi Wilson (Ben's wife), Roxanne Gibb and Michael Bernstein. Fans who couldn't make it and whom I missed seeing include Ted White, Steve Stiles, Dan Steffan, and Frank Lunney, all from the East Coast, Hope Leibowitz, from Canada now but once a New York fan, and, more locally, Alan & DeDee White and Bill & Laurie Kunkel. I'm sure I've inadvertantly left out others.

On Saturday I shared another panel with Arnie, plus Charlie Brown, publisher of the highly successful F&SF newszine Locus, Moshe Feder, and film editor Norm Hollyn, on the topic "New York, New York: What a Wonderful Fandom: talking about fandom in the Big Apple." Moshe is a long-time friend from my days in New York, and is the only one of the panel still living there (okay, in Queens) but I think this was the first time I'd met either Charlie or Norm. This panel consisted mostly of reminiscences (for all but Moshe) of our days in and around New York and, including Moshe, our introductions to fandom there. Moshe updated us on what seems to be currently the pretty low-steam activity of fandom in the metropolitan area, though he and a few others maintain informal monthly gatherings.

The second panel for me was one called "Capturing the Feel of Space: If you've never been there, how do you know what space really looks like?" Among those scheduled were author David Gerrold and artist and costumer Sue Dawe, neither of whom showed. Those who did were Todd McCaffrey (author Ann McCaffrey's son, I learned later), a space buff and engineer who has interviewed astronauts, and John Hopkins, a professional artist. McCaffrey took over the moderator job that I assume Gerrold should have had; he did well enough but we all came at the question from different angles. John (who bravely accepted and quickly went on from someone's reference to the hospital) took the title question very literally and tried to explain how he had to bypass the reality of no atmospheric perspective in space in order to capture a sense of distance, while Todd aimed at telling how astronauts reacted subjectively to the experience of being out there. Someone from the audience amplified this with a remark about how some astronauts claim there's a "smell" to space. I went more with John's approach, but said that what I tried to do was capture strangeness or difference in my images, either with odd subjects or perhaps multiple light sources that wouldn't normally be familiar to those of us confined to Earth.

To sum up, Todd asked us what art materials we'd take with us into space. John mentioned particular paints and equipment and stuff. When it came to me, my reply was: "Digital camera, Photoshop." I was pleased with the quick grins, nods and chuckles I got from everyone on that answer.

That evening, in the fan lounge, we had a retrospective and reminiscence session about the late Bill Rotsler, one of fandom's pre-eminent artists and personalities. Bill Morrow, friend of Rotsler and with him in his last days, pretty much took over the gathering and I'm afraid the session turned rather downbeat as he discussed the final days, rather than a celebration of Rotsler's legacy. I suppose there was room for that, but some of us felt we would have liked the other approach as more appropriate to Rotsler's zest for life.

(I've recently begun re-reading his novel, Patron of the Arts. I remember enjoying it a lot the first time around. I still like it as a story, but now find it a bit preachy about art and attitudes about art. That's cool—who better to discuss the topic? And it certainly serves its purpose—those preachy Heinleinesque dialogues between the first-person protagonist and the woman who becomes his obsession establish their rapport in the first chapters. But still...)

On Sunday, I was scheduled for a panel on "All Time Greatest Comics: the best of the best" along with Marv Wolfman, Dennis Malonee, Len Wein and Chris Weber, all professionals in the comic books field. I was not qualified to join that group; I don't even keep up with what's happening in the field these days—it's a far cry from the comics I used to devour as a kid. The best I might have done was to reminisce about some of my favorites from back in the 40s and very early 50's, pre-Wertham and the Comics Code. Ben, Arnie and Joyce were anxious to start for home—so was I for that matter—so I came into the panel room, a bit late as it happened (the previous session, with Robert Lichtman and Art Widner reading favorite selections from fanzines, had run overtime), and advised the panel that I would not be joining them, explaining I really didn't belong there. I'm not sure who was the moderator, but after the initial look of surprise, I heard him being very gracious about it as I left. It almost made me sorry I'd opted out, actually—almost.

I was glad, though, when we got under way (I held things up myself a little retrieving my pictures from the art gallery), and through the balance of the trip home. I understand there were some pictures taken during some of the sessions; I hope at some point to relieve the dull grey of these pages with some of them. Meanwhile, thanks if you got this far!

September 1, 2002


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