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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Remembering Dave Simons

“I find now that one of the most important things in life is to try to make others feel better about themselves.” – Dave Simons

A year ago I was sitting at this very table just relaxing when Bob Shaw popped up on my G-Mail instant messenger. At the time my heart sank because deep down I knew what he was about to tell me. “I just got off the phone with Bette,” he said, “Dave just passed away.” The news hit me like a truck. Even though I thought I was ready for this as I’d mentally prepared myself after speaking to Dave about a month previously, and I knew he was very, very ill, the shock was incredible. Bob was in tears, without speaking to him I knew that he was in a bad shape. We just sat and talked, on line, for a while, just consoling each other, and then he asked if I could notify those who were close to Dave and make the official announcement. “Better it come from someone close to Dave than from someone who never knew him.” I prepared an email, and, still in shock, sent it out and waited.

“Anyone ever notice that the Skrulls that initially appeared in FF #2 were a lot less impressive than later versions? My theory is that the Skrull throne world thot that Earth would be easy pickings and so sent loser Skrulls. This could have spun into a sort of Sgt. Frog direction, I suppose.” – Dave Simons

Replies began to come in, people were naturally stunned; Gene Colan was distraught; Walt Simonson and Bob Budiansky expressed his deep sadness. The phone rang and I found myself talking with Alan Weiss, a close friend. Alan just wanted to talk Dave, and also wanted to share a toast, which we did, two men on opposite sides of the world, toasting Dave Simons through the phone.

“What I brought to it (Ghost Rider) was the idea of inking things in a certain way just so they would look cool. Besides my usual influences of Wood and Wrightson, I was also looking at Robert Williams for chrome technique. I had no back-off on changing the line work to bring across a texture or add a sparkle.”—Dave Simons

I had been in touch with Dave right up to near the end. The last email contact I had with him was about two days before he passed away. It was funny, one of my cats had gone missing and Dave, whom I’d told, was very worried. In a series of incidents that, as my wife would say, could only happen to me, I got my cat back, but in the process fell out of a tree, leapt over a neighbours fence and broke down a shed door, all the time being scratched to the point of my nearly requiring stitches. When I calmed down I wrote the story down and sent it over to Dave who replied almost instantly about how he’d nearly injured himself laughing at the thought of me leaping over fences and going through doors at 6:00am on a winter’s morning, in the rain. He then made me promise that I’d look after myself, my wife Lyndal and, most importantly, my cats. Dave loved his cat, Smokey, and he knew how upsetting it was to have a cat go missing. That was the last email that I got from Dave.

“(talking about the band that never was) By the way the girl at the keyboard is Jessica Zalkind. Ken had her do some minor assistant work. Some coloring, I think. Could be wrong. Ken was the one who played the keyboard. (laughter) We didn't have a band! Ken wanted it, wanted me to do lead vocals, but I have very little musical talent and no sense of rhythm. Of course, that didn't stop the Sex Pistols. It was pretty much blues thru a punk sensibility. Ken wanted to be the next Ray Manzarek. (laughter) Armando played guitar. But no matter what he played, it came out sounding like Spanish guitar.” – Dave Simons

I’d gotten a large package from Dave in the mail only a few weeks beforehand. We’d talked about the contents as it was packed, as usual, for Dave had decided to send over everything that was lying about the place. We’d recently wrapped up an interview that we’d done via the instant chat feature of Facebook – another of Dave’s ideas – and he wanted to know what I’d learned from looking at his art, in particular the preliminaries, which, to my eye, looked more like finished pencils than most people’s work. I told him that I’d learned that he was able to transfer a lot of the energy that was evident in his prelims over to the finished product. Dave was happy with that.

“I inked a lot of my heroes. I would have liked to ink a Kirby comic. I only inked a couple of his presentation pieces for Ruby-Spears. I wonder what I'd look like over another Wood-influenced artist such as Wayne Howard. I got to ink so many--both Buscemas, Gene Colan, Budiansky, even Frank Springer!” – Dave Simons

Dave was self-depreciating about his work. He knew it was good, he knew that a lot of his work, both pencils and inks, were as good as anyone else’s out there, and in a lot of cases, better. When I first spoke to him he found it difficult to take praise, but then that might have just been the way I framed it. Towards the end he knew what he meant and how good he was. He loved his web-site and insisted that I keep doing it. He was loyal as well – once we had the site up and running a few people approached Dave and offered to take it over and build a better site, for a cost, of course. To all of them Dave politely declined and told them that unless they began to pay him, then they’d not be able to better my offer of a free site. He’d make it a point of asking them all for suggestions and then passing the good ones onto me to implement them.

“When you really look at what you have to do as a penciler if you really know what you’re doing and sometimes I think I didn’t quite know what I was doing, especially when I look back at the old stuff. Penciling, if you’re doing it right, is a much tougher gig than inking. Even though I usually liked to know what was going on, with inking you don’t necessarily have to be involved with the story. With penciling you have to be intimately involved with the story because you’re the one who’s bringing the writers work and intentions across to the readers, as to what he’s trying to communicate there. You have to think of the drama, the camera angles, and the composition, make sure you leave room for the word balloons, all those sorts of things. Added to that is that you have to make sure you draw it nicely too, there’s that element of draftsmanship, which I always thought was my weakest point. I started to see how my pencils would look inked by someone else. I penciled King Conan and Geoff Isherwood inked it. I did some work on Red Sonja and Vinnie Colletta inked me on that." – Dave Simons

Dave’s sense of humour was one of the best I’ve ever seen. When he wanted to turn it on he was as funny, and dry, as anyone out there and his laugh was infectious. As with me and my cat, Dave could see the funny side in almost anything, and managed to draw humour of a hospital scare by telling me, in detail, how he hallucinated during his treatment to the point of believing that SpongeBob had come into the room and was treating him. Things such as my running battle with Wikipedia amused him no end. Publicly he’d tut-tut me, but in messages and emails he’d egg me on by telling me that perhaps the Wiki people were right, perhaps he wasn’t notable, after all he wasn’t John Romita. Still he loved the faux Obama poster that I created and the phrase that I also invented, “Inheritably Notable” after the Wiki editors had declared him anything but.

“What were you thinking of for a Ghost Rider? I'll tell you one I had in mind: Ghost Rider on his bike, the cycle in profile, moving from the right to the left of the page. We see a uniformed schoolgirl's legs-she's been flung across his gas tank-plaid skirt flapping in the wind, flash of white panty. One of her penny-loafers has fallen off and bounces down the road. Ghost Rider has his head turned toward the camera and is giving us the finger. All black background behind the flames.” – Dave Simons

How talented was Dave? More talented than most of his peers and most of the people working in comic books today. Whatever he set his mind to he succeeded in doing. He worked as an inker and became one of the finest inkers there was. He worked as a penciler and was able to obtain steady work. He worked in animation and rose from the position of doing storyboards to directing and producing, ultimately being nominated for an Emmy award. His work ethic was amazing and he worked right up to the end. When Dave was at his sickest he was working on X-men trading cards for Rittenhouse. He’d managed to create nearly 500 individual sketch cards, that’s pencils, inks and colours, for the Fantastic Four set and wanted his beat his record. Sadly he didn’t reach his own mark. Typical of Dave he was always recommending other artists that he knew, or knew were out of work, to Rittenhouse. This way the artists would get some small work, in most cases just enough to pay the weekly bills. Dave would do this even knowing that it might reduce his own workload.

“Working on it was just another episode of Carmen SanDiego. I saw the Emmy nomination for what it was. In my opinion, I'd done more inspired work on other shows, most notably Exo-Squad for Universal. Carmen got the nomination because of its "educational" value. It was nice to go to the awards, tho. I wore a tux and everything. Afterward I went next door to Trader Vic's and had a pina colada. AWOOOO!” – Dave Simons

One of the things Dave would have been disappointed with was the fact that he wasn’t able to complete a commission that he’d been working on, King Lear, as performed by Magneto and the Scarlet Witch. Bob Almond finished it off and did a brilliant job, but the fact that Dave was still inking it when he was so sick he had to go into hospital proves how dedicated he was. If Dave said he was going to do something then you could put money on it being done, on time, and with a quality that is sometimes missing in other people’s best efforts.

“Here is my recipe for a winning comic book cover: Flame. Gorilla. Skull. Hot chick. Other elements of interest: Nazis, dinosaurs.” – Dave Simons

His mind ran a million miles an hour with concepts. If he wasn’t getting me to pitch proposals to Marvel for Squirrel Girl, he was working on his own creation, Beastball and pitching yet another idea, Donna Thyme, with me as a writer. Dave had the ideas and wanted writers to help him flesh them out. We’d only just started to work on a Donna Thyme story when he left us.

“The stupidest thing I ever did was turn down being the regular inker on Amazing Spider-Man over John Romita Jr. Idiotic.” -- Dave Simons

Dave Simons was a lot of things to a lot of people, but to virtually everyone that met him he was a friend. He was warm, friendly and genuine. I don’t think I ever heard Dave say a bad word about anyone in public, and I’ve yet to come across anyone who has a bad word to say about Dave. He helped a lot of people get to where they are today and when he needed help those people, and more, all rushed to assist him. Dave was resistant to the idea of an fundraiser at first, but when I told him that Bob Shaw and myself were going to do it regardless, he gave in and, rightly, said that he’d donated so much of his art, time and money, and indeed himself, over the years, that he guessed he was finally due. Indeed he was. He found humour in it, as only Dave could, by donating his own art to his own fundraiser.

“I was in the Coast Guard, my last year there, and had been taking Buscema's class. The Coast Guard base was on Governor's Island in the NY harbor. I got the idea that I might like to meet Robbins and, figuring he probably lived in New York, looked him up in the phone book. I called a Frank Robbins on 14th St. and it was him. We arranged for me to come over. I was really excited.
It was that simple.
"Are you the Frank Robbins that draws Invaders?"
"Yes."
Some fanboy gushing on my part and he said I could come to his studio. I brought over some of my stuff which was heavily influenced by him. He was really nice, pointed out areas where I needed to improve, which at that time was almost everything. Personally he was a pretty goofy looking guy. Receding forehead and hairline. big beak of a nose. Receding chin. Prominent Adam’s apple. Thick horn-rimmed glasses. Hair a little on the long side.
Smoked cigarettes in a black cigarette holder.
He had these Swedish design sling back type chairs in his studio. You know the kind? From the 60s, canvas stretched over a wire frame. So when I came over he would sit in one and I'd take the other. I think they were red. Frank sat and stood and moved like his characters. Arms and legs at all sorts of odd angles.
So he's sitting in this low-slung chair like that. Invariably he would run out of lighter fluid for his Zippo. For the younger folks reading this, a Zippo has to be filled with naphtha fluid, not butane. In filling his lighter, he would invariably get the lighter fluid all over himself. Then he'd go to light his cigarette (in the cigarette holder) and set himself on fire. Then I'd be treated to the sight of Frank Robbins trying to put himself out, slapping away at his clothes with his arms flapping at all those weird Frank Robbins angles. I had to try not to laugh. Happened every time I visited.
I would only see him about once a month. I didn't want to be a pest. He told me, “You should quit trying to draw like me." When I asked why, he said "Nobody's hiring the real Frank Robbins, why should they hire a fake Frank Robbins?" Good advice, commercially, but somewhat sad.
I didn't see him much after that. Called to say hi a few times.” – Dave Simons

It’s been a year but a day hasn’t gone by that I’ve not thought of Dave. I keep expecting him to email me, just to let me know that he’s fine, and, oddly enough, I’ve dreamt about him more than once. In my dreams he’s happy and surrounded by the people he admired and adored, and waiting for the people that admired and adored him to get to where he is. And when we all do, Dave will be waiting, with a new set of stories about everyone, laughing that laugh of his.

“I'm doing the Trapster-"Don't call me Paste-Pot Pete!" right now. Basically he's a guy with a caulking gun. But he was a founding member of the Frightful Four. I was also just looking at the Melter.
"I am the Melter!"
“Uh...what do you melt?"
"Old crayons, mostly." – Dave Simons

Happy Trails Dave, we miss you and we love you.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Danny,
Heartfelt appreciation for the amazing memorial tribute to Dave. You are a true friend and most sincere. To say that I miss Dave is an absurd understatement. Today, the words just won't come.
With love,
Bette

Anonymous said...

Danny,
I hate a world without Dave Simons in it. The laugh, the energy, the passion with which he lived his life. So many people just go through the motions in life. Dave on the other hand, devoured experiences like a small child enraptured with things we often overlook. To call him my friend was an honor I will never forget. To help keep his legacy alive is something I accept as my duty. Trust me Dave, my brother, I will not fail you. I love you.

Bob

--steve cohen said...

Dave was lovely to me when i met him in Boston in 1983, he drew CAPTAIN AMERICA drinking coffee in a diner for me, at my request, based on a recent issue of the title.
that drawing is still with me,and so is the kindnes dave showed me that time, and then on Facebook more recently.