Ken Krueger Awards

November 8, 2011

By Mike Towry

Next year (2012) will see the 40th anniversary of the first El Cortez Comic-Con, which was held August 18-21, 1972. I was Chairman of the con that year, at the ripe old age of seventeen, and it’s always held a special place in my heart. I’m not alone, however, in looking back fondly on that con and the many others that took place at that historic venue. For many longtime attendees, the cons held at San Diego’s El Cortez Hotel in the seventies along with the final one at that site in 1981 constitute a sort of golden age in early Comic-Con history.

Some of those attendees, when asked to write about their favorite Comic-Cons of yore for the 2009 Comic-Con souvenir book, reminisced fondly about the El Cortez years. For instance, Greg Bear wrote, “The El Cortez conventions were among the most fun, the friendliest, and most manageable.” Dave Clark wrote, “I have a special fondness for all of the early El Cortez Hotel conventions. The close-knit feeling of those smaller events is hard to even imagine today. In the evening after the main events were all shut down, a group of guests and hardcore fans would gather by the poolside for drinks, stories, songs and high-spirited fun going on into the wee hours.” And Jim Valentino wrote, “I’d have to say that my favorite era was at the El Cortez. The Con was so much more intimate; there was a real sense of community and camaraderie. It was the party con in those days and everyone had a great time.”

I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be cool to have a new “old school” comic convention in San Diego and with the El Cortez anniversary coming up next year, 2012 seems a good time to put one on. To that end, I’ve been having discussions with early Comic-Con committee members Richard Alf, Barry Alfonso, and Bob Sourk, as well as with other longtime fans about this. Having received a thoroughly positive response, I’m currently finalizing the details for such an old-school con— provisionally named the San Diego Comic Fest—to be held during the fall of 2012. We think it could be a lot of fun to have a relatively-smallish con at which we consciously try to foster the spirit, or “vibe” as we used to say, of those early fan gatherings.

The 1972 Comic-Con had between 900 and 1,000 attendees, which is around the number we’re looking at for next year’s event. Richard, Barry, and Bob are all three onboard as advisors. I’m also happy to announce that we already have our first confirmed Guest of Honor: Comic-Con’s Jackie Estrada. (Jackie was invited in recognition of her accomplishments in shepherding the Eisner Awards, genre editing—such as the Dark Horse Comics: Between the Panels book—creating and running Exhibit A Press, and generally being an important contributor to Comic-Con International’s success for longer than just about anybody else.)

Speaking of awards, every good con needs an awards program, right? I’ve been thinking for some time that there should be a Ken Krueger Award. Ken certainly deserves an award in his name, but what would it be for? Well, Ken was always proud of fans who succeeded in becoming professionals, and that seems like a perfect achievement to recognize with an award in his name.

Ken, in fact, had made that transition himself. Ken had started out as a teenage science-fiction fan attending the first Worldcon in 1939. By 1946 he had managed to become a professional science-fiction publisher, and in the subsequent decades continued to be active as a publisher and retailer of both science fiction and comics.

We can find one expression of Ken’s feelings on the subject of fans becoming professionals in his introduction for Ray Bradbury at the first multi-day San Diego Comic-Con (August 1-3, 1970). Ken proudly informed the audience assembled to hear Ray speak that “the field of science fiction and science-fiction fandom as a percentage has produced more professionals than any other group in the history of the world. We have produced many editors, many authors, many fine artists.” To hear the actual audio recording of Ken’s words at that time, just click on the player button below to have a listen. (If you’re reading this via news reader or email, you may have to visit the web site to play the clip.)

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In his tribute to Ken that appears elsewhere on the KenKruegerTribute.com site, Greg Bear wrote of Ken, “He simply enjoyed herding a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears kids into doing what he knew they were capable of doing. And that led to a ring of professional careers, to Comic-Con International, and to some of the yet-to-be-recognized glory days of Southern California culture.” It was evident during Ken’s last visit to Comic-Con in 2009 that he was more than proud of the professional success achieved by those “kids” in comics and science fiction (and in science itself for that matter).

I hope you’ll agree that a Ken Krueger Award to recognize fans who have succeeded as professionals would be a good thing and that it would be fun to have an old-school San Diego comic con at which to present the awards. Please let me know if you agree.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie Estrada November 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

It’s a great honor to be guest of honor! This should be a really fun show for everyone!

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David Clark November 10, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I think a smaller scale event geared towards those who remember and enjoyed the early Cons sounds great. My wife and I attended the World Fantasy Con in San Diego last week and really enjoyed it. They limit membership to 750 attendees. Some sort of maximum number might help keep the event manageable.

I also don’t want it to be seen as any kind of “anti-Comicon”. I have really enjoyed the last few cons very much, especially this last one with its’ “50 Years of Comics Fandom” programing. I have learned that if I stay away from the Hollywood media event type programing (which I can’t seem to get into any more anyway) and focus on the smaller scale programing on stuff I have always liked, I have a much better time. There is a very nice small sized con going on, enclosed in a giant con. It is somewhat a matter of focus.

I also got to know Tim Leary through Comicon and have some stories to tell. I would be happy to sit on a panel focusing on him.

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Scott Shaw! November 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

It’d be appropriate to invite some of the guest pros who attended our early Comic-Cons. Just off the top of my head, that would include: William Stout, Mark Evanier, Mike Royer, Willie Ito, Stan Sakai, Bob Foster, Sergio Aragonés, George Clayton Johnson, Don Glut, maybe even Richard Corben (who never showed up personally but sent his film “Neverwhere” to be shown at our mini-con. I doubt if Ray Bradbury or June Foray would want to travel to us, but you never know…and of course, there’s always Greg Bear, Wendy All, John Pound, Jim Valentino and Yours Truly. Tributes to Dave Stevens and Forry Ackerman would be cool, too!

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Scott Shaw! November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I’d also like to see the convention showcase the work of cartoonists who are local to the San Diego area, especially promising newbies. If there has to be a Ken Krueger Award (nothing against Ken, but awards are too plentiful these days and in general, are more trouble than they’re worth), let’s make it a cash prize or a gift certificate specific to the awardee’s area of work or maybe even a small gig with a reputable publisher. That’s the sort of help Ken gave us!

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Scott Shaw! November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I also think a panel about Dr. Timothy Leary would be very interesting. Wendy All has wonderful, ironic and hilarious memories of the man.

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Scott Shaw! November 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm

A program about Bob Clampett would be appropriate, too! He was another notable fan-turned-pro who was a huge supporter of our li’l convention!

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John Province November 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Scott, I think June might come if asked. It’s amazing how active she remains at this point in her life!

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John Province November 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I’m very interested in this idea. If I may add my two cents, I’d suggest organizing it along the lines of the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans (OAF), which actually meets this weekend, and is geared to fans involved prior to roughly around 1970. It gets things back to basics pretty readily, and lets us old guys enjoy what Cons used to be like, with an emphasis on vintage material, not newly mass produced instant collectibles. We can also enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed low key atmosphere. It could once again be about having fun and perhaps picking up a small treasure or two along the way. I have considerable free time. Please me know if I can help. I’m in Spring Valley, 10 miles from downtown San Diego.

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Stan Sakai November 10, 2011 at 9:11 am

The first few Comic-cons I attended were at the El Cortez, when I was much more fan than pro. It was a golden time when fans easily mingled with pros. Your idea for the Comic Fest is a great one.

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Doug Abramson November 10, 2011 at 3:12 am

Sounds like fun!

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James Van Hise November 9, 2011 at 7:19 pm

The first San Diego Comicon I attended (which is what those of use from out of town called it) was in 1975 and immediately became my favorite. It was one of the reasons I moved to San Diego in 1978. A reasonably sized convention would be fun to attend. The suffocating crowds with the 125,000 attendees at the modern Comicon make it impossible to enjoy any longer. I would be happy to participate in any way with a San Diego Comic Fest.

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Jean Graham November 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm

S.T.A.R. San Diego was also an integral part of the early El Cortez Comic-Cons, and as I’m sure many of our members would like to attend both your event (sounds great!) and S.T.A.R.’s 40-Year Reunion, I do hope we can avoid landing on the same date. We’re close to confirming ours for a Saturday evening in October 2012, but don’t know yet which one. We may know by next week, and with any luck, we can co-ordinate with you to avoid any conflict, as there’s quite a bit of overlap in our “fan base.” Sure wish the El Cortez was still available for cons. Would love to hold one there again.

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William R. Lund November 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Mike:
This sounds like a great idea!! I’m all for it.

Originally, as you may recall, I was scheduled to be the Chairperson that year (in addition to still being in the Navy), so I had been working on finding a place for Comic-Con. The problem we ran into was the Republicans intended to hold their convention that year and hotel space was very limited, with every hotel telling us they were not interested…except the El Cortez. When the Republicans moved their convention to another city, Ken, Shel, and I went down and negotiated with the hotel and then signed a contract.

However, due to my interest in attending college during the 1972 Fall term, my workload increased at NAS Miramar to get an early release, and you took over as Comic-Con Chairperson. We returned to the El Cortez in 1974 when the hotel was unavailable during 1973.

I look forward to such an event to honor the fond memories of the El Cortez.

All My Best,
Bill

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Wendy All November 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm

What a wonderful excuse for a fan tribute to Ken and a high school reunion of people who graduated to professional careers because of the effect of the early days of Comic-Con. What do you need me to do?

-Wendy All

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Scott Shaw! November 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm

This is a great idea and one that in no way can be construed as being “against” SDCCI. A lot of fangeezers like us have been lamenting the absence of this sort of event, and it’s exactly what Ken would have loved. Count me all the way in however you need me for the Ken Krueger Komic-Kon!

Aloha,

Scott!

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