By Charlie Roberts
In 1997, Charlie Roberts heard that Shel Dorf was planning an article about comics fan extraordinaire David Siegel to be published in the Comic Buyer’s Guide. To provide information for the article, Charlie wrote the following letter to Shel. The letter details Charlie’s adventures with David while Charlie and his wife, Joan, were living in York, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, Shel was unable to use Charlie’s letter, and so, with Charlie’s permission and encouragement, we present his letter here.
Thanks for your postcard which arrived in today’s mail – am so glad to hear you’re doing a piece on David for “CBG.”
I’ve never been with anyone who deserves it more – he’s worked tirelessly for some seven years to get guests for the San Diego Comic-Con – no pay of any kind, no expense account, and not much thanks until last year when he finally got an Inkpot Award. (I had tears in my eyes watching that one!)
As you know, I’ve long championed artists getting recognition and thanks to David they not only are recognized for lifelong achievement but many get royalties from reprints or make money for commission work at comic conventions and by mail order.
David was the man responsible for getting Sheldon Moldoff, Creig Flessel, Vincent Sullivan, Harry Lampert, Joe Sinnott, George Tuska, Irving Novick, Chad Grothkopf, Joe Giella, Ramona Fradon, Jim Mooney, Kurt Schaffenberger, and others out there. And he tried in vain to get Jack Burnley, Mort Meskin, and E.E. Hibbard out to San Diego with in-person visits to their homes back here – again, at his own expense with no other motive than to see these fine artists finally get recognition at the greatest comic convention in the world.
I’d been trying to find Jack Burnley for thirty years. Thanks to David, I’m proud to say I’m good friends with him, Creig and Marie Flessel, Vincent Sullivan, and Shelly and Shirley Moldoff. I had no idea these people were still around and am now their friend. (Joan and I have shared in all this.) Let me also say that if you hadn’t started the San Diego Con, David wouldn’t have done what he did, so thanks certainly go wholeheartedly to you too, my good friend!
My favorite story of David goes back to when he first set up plans to visit artists back here. He started calling me in February, saying he’d set up a lunch at Creig Flessel’s with Fred Guardineer and their old editor Vincent Sullivan. (Check out “Slice of Wry” for my piece on Vin….talk about a legend!) I thought to myself, “Oh, sure. We’re really going to have lunch with these ‘D.C.’ golden-age greats….Right!” Then a few weeks later he asks if I’d like to see Joe Simon…. “Uh…Yeah….Okay.” Then a week or two later David asks if I want to see Mort Meskin – Mort Meskin! Along with Lou Fine one of the best artists in comics… “Okay, sure David.” Then… “How about E.E. Hibbard?” The golden-age “Flash” artist. “Uh, okay David.”
Well, I’ve got no idea what to expect, not to mention David is going to land in Philly, rent a car, drive 100 miles to see Kurt Schaffenberger near Atlantic City, then some 250 miles to see the legendary “D.C Superman, Batman, Starman” golden-age artist Jack Burnley, then 189 miles to my house….And then he’ll drive us both to N.Y. in his car….200 more miles. Well, this has gone from the sublime to the semi-absurd – I’m a letter writer, and David has done all this on the phone. There’s no way in hell this is going to work!
Well, David is due here at 6 PM. Joan has made spaghetti and it’s ready. 7 PM, no David. We eat spaghetti. 8 PM we’re getting worried, but choke down dessert. At 8:45 there’s a knock at the door. I open it, and David is standing there holding a “Starman” Burnley original drawing asking me if it’s a print. “Get the hell in here David.”
Yes, he’d been to Shaffenberger’s and to see Jack and Delores Burnley. (Yes, it is an original, not a print!)
The next day we leave for New York with David driving. We decide to visit Mort Meskin first just north of N.Y.C., then plan to backtrack to get to E.E. Hibbard’s in N.J. at 7:30. Mort had told Dave we could have a short visit, which became some two hours as he and his wife showed us what he’d been doing in the some 40 years since leaving comics. I’m taking pictures and having a ball.
We leave for Hibbard’s, get lost, and wind up there at….well, 9:40 PM. We apologize profusely but E.E. is a bit cranky as it’s past his bedtime and at one point asks why the hell we want to see him anyway. He somewhat patiently signs our books while David extols the virtues of the San Diego Con as he’d done with Mort Meskin. (Mrs. Hibbard gets 10 points for patience and a sense of humor with all this.)
It’s approximately 10:30 PM and we’re off to L.I. via the G.W. Bridge. David, still driving, misses an exit and bam, we’re in Harlem….two weeks after the Rodney King incident….two white guys lost in Harlem….midnight….dum da dum dum. A policeman pulls up and (ahem!) escorts us back to the expressway. We get to our motel at 1 AM.
The next morning we pick up Fred Guardineer and drive to Creig and Marie Flessel’s for our noon lunch. (Fred did distinctively stylized art for “D.C.” including “Zatara” and the background for the 1939 “World’s Fair” comic cover.) We get to the Flessels’ and it’s a perfect spring day. Marie has lunch set up on the screened porch, but Vincent Sullivan, their former editor and friend, hasn’t arrived.
Some forty minutes later the quiet spring day is disrupted by what sound like a garbage truck eating a dumpster. Vin spins into the driveway in what can only be called a “big ass” late 1960’s vehicle which looked like someone had stolen some, but not all, the paint off. These three hadn’t seen each other in years and we shared in their stories and laughter over the early comic days at “D.C.” in the 30’s. (I have all this on videotape but forgot to turn on the sound!!) These three were close to the foundation at “D.C.” Vin and Creig started there in 1936, Fred in 1937. (Check out the “Gerber” covers books and you’ll see some great early work by Vin & Creig.)
The luncheon party broke up around three and we drove Fred home and then….into the big city to see Joe Simon at his studio (with some incredible originals on the walls!) and finally to a Broadway theater to visit William Lieberson who was a Fawcett editor turned show producer. Lieberson wasn’t in, and we left N.Y.C. for the four hour drive here, arriving around midnight. With David still driving.
There was a second trip a few years later with a visit to see Irving Novick, then we picked up Vin and Creig and drove to Connecticut for lunch with Chad Grothkopf (of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Howdy Doody, and Underdog fame), Fred Schwab (the great Golden Age humor comic book artist), Gill Fox (Golden Age “quality” comic artist), Bob Weber (“Moose” comic strip artist) and comic historian Ron Goulart. That trip was detailed a few years ago in a “CBG” piece by Ron. Yes, David is still driving. A cab in Las Vegas right now. And he’s still phoning everyone to line up guests for the Golden Age panel in San Diego. For 1998. And 1999. And 2000…ad infinitum.
I however am not saying “Yeah…sure” anymore.
David Siegel has a heart of gold, a calling card, and a tankful. He’s a friend for life, not just for me, but to all of us who appreciate those who got comic books off and running. A little less ego and a little more spirit like David has goes a long way.
Well Shel, this is the longest letter I ever wrote anyone (!). Please use whatever you like – again, thanks for your effort on David’s behalf.
Charlie Roberts was a co-founder and sponsor of OrlandoCon in Florida (1974-1979) with Jim Ivey, Rob Word, Neil Austin, and Rich Kravitz. Guests included Hal Foster, Floyd Gottfredson, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Wayne Boring, Burne Hogarth and forty Florida cartoonists. He was co-founder of the Lancaster Comic Art Convention (1975-1976) in Central Pennsylvania with Chuck Miller. Guests included Harvey Kurtzman, Burne Hogarth, Johnny Craig, George Evans, and Kelly Freas. With Chuck Miller, Charlie also put on Frazetta 77 in September 1977 in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, the First major exhibit of Frank Frazetta art. Frank didn’t attend, but Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, and others attended including two busloads of students from The Kubert School. After moving to San Diego in 1983, he and Greg Heideman put on four Vintage Paper and Collectibles Shows (with no guests, but lots of neat paper-related items). Charlie returned to Pennsylvania in 1987 and in 1994 he went to work as a describer and photographer for Hake’s Americana and Collectibles auction house in York, Pennsylvania. He worked there full time until moving back to Southern California in 2001. (He still does a little part-time work for Ted Hake.) In November 1974, Charlie got up a petition signed by attendees of the Maryland Funnybook Festival to help Siegel and Shuster with their lawsuit against DC, and put on a charity auction at that show to send money to Joe Shuster. As a member of the Southern California Cartoonists Society, Charlie frequently contributed to the SCCS newsletter, “A Slice of Wry.” From 1984 – 1988, Charlie’s “Baby Thid Thez” panel cartoon – inked by none other than Shel Dorf – appeared in the Point Loma “Beacon,” a bi-weekly San Diego community newspaper.
And David Siegel, by the way, recently sent us some material to use on this web site, so you can expect to be reading more by and about him in the near future.