MOSCON MEMORIES (Misty watercolour ones…?)         

Figure 1 - Alex Schomburg
Figure 1 – Alex Schomburg

Although, as I’ve said, my memory is terrific with the sole exception of anything involving me (!), I will attempt to recall stuff from my fannish background. So to continue…. I first became aware of the art of Alex Schomburg when I was in junior high school, when I first saw some of the Winston series of YA (then called “juvenile”) SF books (see my Amazing Stories columns #40 and #42 from 2014), with covers by Schomburg (Figure 1) and others; plus, the original series all had endpapers by Schomburg (Figure 2). The ones in Figure 2 were the frontpapers, all about the future; the “endpapers” at the back (Figure 3) were “present-day” (1950s). Many people, including me (okay, many older people), cite the Winstons as seminal influences in their love for SF (and these were all SF, not fantasy)—and many of those people cite Alex Schomburg’s covers and endpapers in sparking their continuing love for SF art. His airbrush work and his design were, in my opinion, the best Winston covers; as I grew older, I became familiar with his work in the SF magazines.

Figure 2 - Winston Frontpaper by Schomburg
Figure 2 – Winston Frontpaper by Schomburg

As I said in my last column, Jon Gustafson and I had become pretty much “besties,” to use Mayim Biyalik’s phrase from The Big Bang Theory; one of the things that united us, too, was our love of SF/F art. Some time after we had produced the first issue, or first couple of issues of New Venture magazine, we became friends with Kelly Freas through the mail (it would take another year or so until we met him), as well as artists like George Barr, Rick Sternbach, Tim Kirk and others. One day in early 1976, I think it was, Jon showed me a flyer for a “comic convention” in (I think) Portland, OR, which was about a 9- or 10-hour drive from Pullman. The flyer listed a number of well-known comics artists, but one name caught our attention: Alex Schomburg. (At this time, we knew Alex had done many SF covers, etc., but we didn’t really know—or connect—his comic work.) Since nobody had heard anything from or about him since the ‘50s, I had figured he was retired or dead. “Do you think it could be the same Schomburg?” Jon asked. Well, it was worth it for us to make the trip and find out… and of course it was indeed he. (My mind was a bit blown: based on his fairly European name, I had expected Alex to be a tall Teutonic type; lo and behold, here was this nattily-dressed fairly short Puerto Rican gentleman.) Anyhow, Jon and I went, and met Alex, and became good friends quickly. (We also met a number of other artists, but I’ll be darned if I remember who they were, except for Alfred Alcala!) And we met Craig W. Anderson, who had traveled all the way up from Tracy, California, to find out—like us—whether this was “the” Alex Schomburg. (Craig was a writer, reporter, artist and photographer; we became fast friends!) Shortly after that convention, Alex began selling to the major markets again, beginning with Asimov’s SF magazine. And Alex became such a good friend that we asked him to be Art Guest of Honour at MosCon 1 (Figure 3)!

Figure 3 - Winston endpapers by Schomburg
Figure 3 – Winston endpapers by Schomburg

Jon and I went to any number of conventions together, since my then-wife was not at all interested in SF/F and/or fandom; and it was I who, when Richard E. Geis asked if anyone was interested in doing an art column for The Alien Critic, prodded Jon to write to him; you could say I was a part of Jon’s fannish artistic notoriety. He went on from that in later years to write a book (Chroma: The Art of Alex Schomburg) and to have the only SF/F art appraisal service approved by Lloyd’s of London. (He was my best friend for many years; I was his Best Man when he married Vicki Mitchell. Sadly, complications from diabetes eventually ended his career and his life.) But anyway, back to Alex and MosCon. As we corresponded more with Alex, I think he felt that perhaps now—since we had assured him many people remembered him fondly—and he had that reassurance from MosCon 1 (Figure 4); he had brought many original pieces of artwork with him for display, including both sets of Winston endpapers and had seen and experienced how impressed people were with his art. (Many of these people had not previously known much about him.) He was a gentleman, and everyone who met him liked him. He also gave a lecture/slideshow at the convention, and did the program book cover (Figure 4) in the “old style” we requested. We also pioneered the “limited edition” print (of the program book cover) giveaway at conventions; I believe I have #3 of this particular signed and numbered print. For some reason we asked Kelly Freas instead of Alex to do the convention badge (Figure 6), which I “hot stamped” with gold foil.

Figure 4 - MosCon 1 Program book cover
Figure 4 – MosCon 1 Program book cover

As I mentioned we asked Robert A. Heinlein to be our GOH, but he demurred at first, saying his health would not allow him to commit to any convention (Figure 5); he later said he would commit to coming as long as his health would allow. Later, closer to the con, he suggested Verna Smith Trestrail as a GOH instead, because her father, E. E. “Doc” Smith, had attended the University of Idaho in Moscow. None of us, of course, had known this. (And if you don’t know who Doc Smith was, your reading is sadly behind the times. Check out the Wikipedia article.) I corresponded with Verna, and she gave us an enthusiastic “yes!” Figure 6, the Kelly Freas convention badge, is a portrait of Verna leaning out of the back of a train—don’t ask me why; I’ve forgotten—and holding out her arms to Worsel of Velantia, one of Doc’s non-human Lensmen. Verna and Al, her husband, trekked out to Moscow from the wilds of Leesburg, Indiana, and we were all hooked. Verna on us, and we on Verna. (Al wasn’t into all this stuff, being more of a Western kind o’ guy, but he bore up really well.) Verna bustled around MosCon, buttonholing anyone who stood still for five minutes, and gave them the lowdown on Doc; she also gave a talk on Doc at the con. Because Heinlein couldn’t attend, he wrote a short article about Doc, which I put in the program book; being a thrifty sort, Heinlein recycled it and reprinted it in Expanded Universe; we PESFANs, of course, are proud of printing it first.

Figure 5 - Heinlein Letter
Figure 5 – Heinlein Letter

Because the “Pullman/Moscow International Airport” was one step away from being in a cattle field, and because we were several hours’ drive away from practically anywhere (even Spokane was something like an hour and a half away by car), we figured we would be lucky to break even, but since every PESFAN had chipped in $50 or $100 for seed money, and Dean Wesley Smith, Jon and I had promised to make up any shortfall (very gingerly, I assure you, because none of us was rolling in the dough and most of the other PESFANs were University students), we were surprised and happy that at the end of the con, we had actually broken even. (“Funny” story here: the Best Western was practically the only place in Moscow or Pullman that was big enough, we figured, to hold a convention. Because the 348 or so of us that showed up were not what the BW was used to—after all, the football fans, who were the mainstay of their custom, with two universities’ varsities to choose from—we all dressed and talked weirdly, that literally as soon as the convention was over, the Best Western got hold of our treasurer and demanded immediate payment for use of the facilities, which I remember as being something like two thousand dollars. Because it was Sunday, and the banks were closed—BW wouldn’t even wait till the following day—we ended up taking the receipts from the dealers’ room and wherever we could find cash and paid them in cash. At that point we swore that if we had to hold the next con in a cow pasture, we would never give BW our custom again. Fortunately for us, Cavanaugh’s opened in time for MosCon II, and we were with them literally until the hotel was sold out from under us to serve as grad student housing for the University of Idaho.)

Figure 6 Kelly Freas badge
Figure 6 Kelly Freas badge

You would have to ask someone else how MosCon I went; I was almost literally in shock, even though you wouldn’t have known it from my hamming it up at a) the Opening Ceremonies; b) the Masquerade and c) the first Lensman Awards at the Sunday Brunch. Side note, see Last Words. According to the Program Book (Figure 4), the committee members included me, Jon Gustafson, Larry Oakford, Sasha Zemanek, Mike Finkbiner, Beth (Finkbiner then) Toerne, Charlie Leaphart, Jane Fancher, Don Qualls, Bea Taylor, Vicki Mitchell, Nina K. Hoffman, Bill Profit, Jerry Eveland and Jeanne Wood, Dean Wesley Smith, Ruth Vance, Chris Nilsson (misspelled as “Nelson”), Debbie Miller and Dru Daily. Because the BW didn’t have a hot tub—just a swimming pool—I don’t believe the infamous “hot tub parties” began that year, though I could be mistaken. I’m proud of MosCon, and sad that it doesn’t still continue; all of us got older and either moved away (like me) for various reasons (including graduation; a good portion of PESFA’s base was students), or got burnt out somewhere between the first and the twentieth MosCons. Our student recruiting was never as successful as I wanted; and at this date, I believe PESFA is moribund. Alas, MosCon, like many of its guests (and a couple of its founders) is now only to be found in history. Like Camelot, it had “one brief, shining moment…” that lasted for quite a while. Continued, to quote R.A. Lafferty, on next rock…. (i.e., next week).

Last Words: I’m a bit of a ham (“A BIT?” I hear you cry). Starting when I was six, in England, and wrote and starred in a play for my primary school. In high school I was in Play Production and took part in a couple of plays. And somewhere around the founding of PESFA, I played Henry Higgins in the Lewiston Civic Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady. (I can still recite most of Higgins’s patter songs, like “Why Can’t the English?”) So, yeah, you could say I was—and still am—a junior-grade ham. Anyhow, I hope there’s enough not about me in this column to keep you reading!

Comments on this week’s column are welcome. It’s free to register here, or you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I link to this column. You can also sign up here to get a notification when I publish a new one. All comments are welcome, whether bouquets or brickbats. Discussion of different viewpoints can be fun! My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

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  1. I was there. Drove from North Dakota to Idaho on the chance that Heinlein would be there. Even though he didn’t make it, I was ever afterwards glad I met Schomburg. Any photos? I know I have some, somewhere…

  2. Despite your protestations to the contrary, Steve, you are NOT a ham. Hams can be cured, it is evident that you cannot.
    Thanks for the historical review.

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