When I heard about a party at “Grandma’s,” I didn’t think it would be something that I’d tell my buddies about the next day.
Grandma BB’s Hilltop Hideaway is in Oceanside, and the Southern California Cartoonists Society meets there on occasion. This was one of the saddest and most interesting parties I’ve attended.
It was to celebrate the life of cartoonist Paul Norris. You may not know that name, but you know the superhero he created — Aquaman.
As I looked at the art on the walls, mostly by Norris, there were several pieces that grabbed me, such as Don Soul’s caricatures of Spinal Tap.
I spoke with a gentleman in his 70s who told me about Norris. “He moved from Ohio to Oceanside in 1960, I believe. He married an art student from Dayton, and he did three years in the Army.”
I said, “Just like another local celebrity, Ted Williams.” But, unlike Williams, or anyone else that I know of, Norris made a unique contribution to the war. He drew comic strips for military publications, and at the end of the war, he drew propaganda leaflets that encouraged Japanese soldiers in Okinawa to surrender. At that time, most propaganda demonized the leaders of the other side, while Norris took a humanitarian look at enemy soldiers and appealed to that. Some Japanese soldiers had Norris’s leaflets in their pockets when they surrendered.
There were a few of them on the wall at Grandma BB’s as well as a piece of art a Japanese POW painted for Norris. When I talked with one of Norris’s sons about the war, he got teary-eyed when he said, “My parents were together 61 years. World War II was the only thing that ever separated them.”
The crowd was moved to tears when Norris’s sons, Reed and Michael, got up to speak. Reed became an industrial designer and talked about watching his dad draw and how he would give Reed scraps of paper to practice on. He spoke about shades of black...thick and thin lines. When he said, “I got a Windsor number three,” everyone laughed. I didn’t get it.
Michael told a story about doing a re-creation of the USS Bismarck in their back-yard swimming pool. It involved rubber cement and cherry bombs. They threw matches in, got some explosions, and did some damage. I asked where a kid gets that kind of ammo. He said, “When we were kids, we used to shoot a .22. You could do that back then. To get stuff like cherry bombs, all we had to do was drive from New Jersey to Florida. At the border, you could buy anything.”
I told him that at a previous party I met a guy who did a school project that involved him lighting Army men on fire in his back yard. They wouldn’t light until he poured gasoline over them. When he and his friend couldn’t control the fire, they kicked the gas can into the pool, which spread the flames.
A few of us continued to talk about the crazy things we’d done as teenagers. A guy who saw me taking notes said, “Oh, you’re the party crasher. I like your column.” I said, “I like your cartoons.” He said, “Really? You probably haven’t seen any. They haven’t been published.”
I talked with Karyl, the president of the Southern California Cartoonists Society. I was impressed by her comics and hip sense of humor. She told me that she used to write for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Cosby Show. I asked for her opinion on the writers’ strike. She told me that writers get three cents for every DVD of the show that is sold. That didn’t sound like much to me, but I remembered reading a story about Aerosmith that said they only get eight cents for every CD they sell. So, I’m not sure how all that stuff works out. She went into great detail about all the things the writers aren’t getting compensated for, including video that the studios throw onto the Internet.
A week later, I saw Karyl interviewed on the news; she was picketing somewhere here in San Diego.
A woman at the party who loved superheroes asked Reed, “Did you guys have a lot of fish growing up? I figured with a dad that created Aquaman...”
He laughed and said, “No, we didn’t. A lot of people have these impressions of my dad. He did some science-fiction stuff. He drew X-9, yet he never saw Star Wars. He didn’t want to be accused of plagiarizing.”
I mingled but often ended up talking with Karyl again. At some point I mentioned Pulp Fiction, and she said, “I didn’t care for it. That was like watching a sitcom with stabbing!”
We talked about variety shows, and she mentioned writing for Lily Tomlin and winning an Emmy writing for Cher. I thought about telling her that I once won an award because of Cher — singing one of her songs at a karaoke contest. I decided not to because it would’ve made me sound gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And, her being a comedy writer, I’d need to step up my material if I was going to make her laugh.
I met a guy named Charlie, who deals in animated art. We talked about music and he told me that when he was a kid, his twin brother wanted a bike for Christmas and he asked for an Elvis album.
“I think I got the better deal,” he said. We talked about music memorabilia, and Charlie told me that when Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino came to play the Sports Arena, he bought one of their albums at Tower Records, which was across the street. He told his wife that the bands were probably staying at the hotel behind the arena, and he went there to get the record autographed. Jerry Lee Lewis opened the hotel door and grabbed his wife and dragged her inside. Charlie said, “I thought my wife was going to get raped and killed by Jerry Lee Lewis, which...was kinda cool...in a strange way.” I said, “Well, he was nicknamed ‘the Killer.’”