From Comics Buyer's Guide #1065 April 15, 1994

But I Digress

by Peter David For those who came in late: Back in January, this column discussed the existence of a slam group created specifically to attack noted essayist and fiction writer Harlan Ellison. Originally the group called itself "Enemies of Ellison" and - hiding behind an anonymous flier - announced its intentions to put together a book of anecdotes designed to savage Ellison upon his eventual demise. (Once it was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the open, the group reconstituted itself into the "Victims of Ellison" [presumably to downplay the fact that they were targeting Ellison, rather than vice versa] and crawled out from the shadows, blinking, belligerent, and disingenuous. The most laughable moment was ringleader Charles Platt's assertion that my referring to co-conspirator Gary Groth as one of the "founders" was inaccurate, since [get this] the group had no founders. as if it had sprung, fully formed, from the brow of Zeus or perhaps burst into existence a la the Big Bang.) Would-be members were invited to send in nine bucks for the honor of participating in the mean-spirited enteprise (not to mention getting a button and a newsletter). I announced, at that point, that I was going to start the "Friends of Ellison" (FOE). The purpose was to collect testimonials and stories of how Harlan Ellison had affected people in a positive manner. I would run letters or excerpts from them from time to time in this column, and, in turn, contributors would receive an official "Friends of Ellison" button for which they didn't have to pay a damned cent. The "Victims" later caved in and waived their membership fee. I, on the other hand, actually got checks, in amounts as high as $100, from people wishing to help me defray costs. All such checks were returned with polite thanks. I admit, I was dazzled by the response. We received well over a hundred letters ranging from people who had never met Ellison to industry professionals who had known him for years. Accounts of how his stories had affected people, moved them to action or tears. Stories of kindnesses great and small. The kinds of outpouring of sentiment that - not to sound crass - usually don't surface until after a person is in no position to hear them. Several people said they owed him their careers, and at least three people flat-out stated that they owed him their lives. (Although no one copped to owing him money. Sorry, Harlan.) Some letters have been edited for length. No meaning or content has been changed. Let's start with Noreen Shaw, widow of Larry Shaw: "I rise today to seak for Harlan Ellison. He's my oldest friend in science fiction and a comrade in the trenches when fans fought the good fight against the forces of mundania. "Harlan never forgets a slight or a favor or kindness done him. His memory for past favors and his paybacks are legenday. Years may go by before he can respond, but he always does. He does so with grace. "Out of hundreds of things that are outstanding that he has done, the Shaw family remembers with gratitude the tribute he arranged for Larry Shaw, his old editor, when Larry was near the end of his life. Harlan chose the Hugo ceremony as a forum, assembled many of Larry's friends, made a graceful speech, and presented Larry with a plaque that he cherished until he died. "Any time I'm in trouble, Harlan is the first person I think of and he will always respond. You can count on him to be there any time. I will be glad to supply more instances of his good works, but I suspect you won't ned my words." Then there was the letter from Robert Bloch, noted horror writer best known for Psycho (not to mention originating the quote "I have the heart of a little boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk," a wonderfully macabre comment that has since been misattributed to Stephen King). Bloch writes: "I have known Harlan Ellison for more than 40 years. I've known him in many of his aspects - the professional writer, the public figure, the private person. "As a writer he pours his passions into his prose with a power that has won him rightful recognition. "In public performance he is an eloquent speaker, a skilled entertainer, and - to many followers and fans - almost a cult-figure. "The private Ellison is not a plaster saint. But, then, few of us are, execpt for myself and (perhaps) you. "In all three aspects of his career hs has made many friends and more than a smattering of enemies. It's a situation most writers and most public personalities have leanred to expect and endure. Usually, there's some villification to be found for judgements. "But to me the private persona has always seemed the most important. I know Ellison's opinions and do not always agree with them; I know his faults and can deplore them. But, above all, I know his virtues - his acts of kindness and generosity, his willingness to champion the cause of others as well as fight for his own. "Right or wrong, he fights for what he believes in; here is a man with the courage of his convictions. I may not always love what he loves or hate what he hates, but one thing is a certainty over the long years - I've learned to respect and admire his willingness to stand up and be counted. "It's because of that respect and that admiration I'm standing up now to be counted as a friend of Harlan Ellison." Jan Strnad writes: "Paingod and other Delusions. That was my first exposure to Harlan Ellison's work and it blew me away. Harlan's work still blows me away. But even more than I appreciate his writing, I appreciate Harlan Ellison the person. "Harlan has done me favors. He's recommended me and my work to editors and publishers and agents. He's hired me. He's granted me permission to reprint and adapt his work for little or no money. He's bailed me out of desperate situations and he's responded with utmost generosity whenver I've called on him. He is a good man, as the many, many other testimonials you are receiving will attest. "But I want to make another point, to tell you and everybody else something that's impressed me about Harlan. It's not a big thing to most people, it won't qualify Harlan for sainthood; but it's meant a lot to me because it's so godawfully rare. "Harlan is courteous. Not merely polite or well-mannered (which he isn't always, nor should be always), but courteous. "Which means: He treats you like a human being. He has called, as a matter of courtesy, to warn me when I was entering perilous waters. He has called to argue with things I've written - and we've argued about the issue. (Do you know how few people can argue fervently about something and not slide into personal denigration and name-calling and - well, I suppose you do.) He responds, not just with manners, but with genuine concern and thoughtfullness and respect and kindness, and that's courtesy. "Harlan has treated me courteously always. When I was just a fan. When I was a publisher. When comic-book fans knew my name. When they haven't. You have only to to suffer the ups and downs of an on-again, off-again professional career to appreciate deeply and thoroughly someone like Harlan who doesn't care if you're "hot" or "not" or...if you can do him some good or make him some money or even if you agree or disagree with him about this or that. His respect runs deeper, and he earns my deep respect in return. "I am very thankful that the world contains a Harlan Ellison, I'm grateful for what he's done for me and who he is, and I think you, Peter, for giving me a forum in which to say so." Before we go any further, some of you may be wondering whether I received any negative comments. If anyone wrote in and praised the actions of "Victims of Ellison." The answer, in the interests of accuracy, is: Yes. I got one. One letter. And in contrast to all the others, which were uniformly intelligent, literate, and carefully composed, this one was illiterate, with misspellings in every sentence. No exagerration there: every sentence. I won't run the poor guy's name, because why embarass him? But I'll run an uncorrected sample here, just for amusement's sake: "Now I have met Hartlan Ellison. I know it is not rumor or inuendo that makes me dislioke him...(H)e dismisses everyone who disagrees with him as a mental defective...The greatest villifier of Harlan Ellison is Halrna Ellison!" I'm so glad that's been clarified. As soon as we hunt down this Halrna and get him/her to leave Harlan alone, we'll be all set. Moving on to the less-giggle-inducing letters, we get to the following from William D. Griffith, a short-story writer in Canada who first met Harlan in early 1987. Since then he has kept in constant and frequent touch with Harlan and Susan Ellison and goes on to say: "One of my short stories just recently won first prize in a short-fiction contest sponsored by the Canadian Writer's Journal. I owe Harlan Ellison a small debt of gratitude for this. He was that small nagging voice forcing me onward, striving to be better; to fulfill my potential and try to surpass it. He is my model, my inspiration, my friend. "I have seen Harlan give and sign on of his books to fans who told him about the exorbitant price they just paid to an unscrupulous dealer for another one of his books. "I have seen him endure the long lines of autograph seekers and stay on long after he should have left. At the Diamond Trade show last year in Atlanta, I saw him sign autographs and chat with people for at least three hours, even though he was under medical care for his cardiac problems. By the end of the evening, only he, Susan, and I knew about the angina that the autograph session had caused him. "I have seen him suffer the rudeness and stupidity of loud, boorish fans at many of these occaisions. I have to wonder how he can put up with it all. "The plain truth is that I cannot imagine the world without Harlan Ellison. If he did not exist, we would have to invent him. "Do I consider myself a Friend of Ellison (FOE)? You bet. Count me in." We will close out this installment of FOE (And, yes, rest assured, there will be more down the line. If I ran every single letter I got in its entirety, I would have enough material for a solid year of But I Digress. Obviously, I'm going to space things out.) with a letter from Julius Schwartz, who merely helped create the Silver Age of comics and also edited Superman for - well, forever. Julie attached the first three chapters of his autobiography in which Ellison is discussed, along with such folks as Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. He also sent a cover letter which features a guest appearance by Isaac Asimov who - even from beyond the grave - managed to make the definitive statement in regards to this matter. Ladies and gentlemen, Julius Schwartz: "Harlan Ellison calls me `The World's Biggest Pain in the Toochas' - but I know he says it with affection. "And it was affection - literary and social - that Harlan felt for Manly Wade Wellman that prompted [Harlan] to cancel all engagements and fly to the 1986 World Science Fiction convention in Atlanta and conduct a benefit auction on behalf of Manly's widow, Frances. "Manly's death on April 5, after a painful and lingering illness, had drained the family resources, leaving her in danger of losing her house. "Contributions ranged from Stephen King's literary notebook to an autographed copy of Superman #411 in which I co-starred with the Man of Steel. "Frances Wellman had been hopeful that a few thousand dollars would be raised. Harlan's forceful auctioneering raised a whopping $30,000. "Manly Wade Wellman won the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1983. "Harlan Ellison won the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. "Every September, New York City holds a book fair along 5th Avenue. "On one occasion, I came upon a long line leading to Isaac Asimov's autographing his book published by Otto Penzler's Mysterious Press. "Knowing it would be futile to barge in to claim I was a friend of Isaac, I was inspired to tell Penzler I was a personal friend of Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison! "Overhearing this, Isaac looked up and muttered, `Much better to be a friend of Harlan Ellison than an enemy!'"

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