I was just an innocent kid back in the late 1950s. In hopes of becoming a professional cartoonist (sigh!) some day, I had set my sights on getting into New York's High School of Music and Art --the school that many of my favorite cartoonists, like MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman, had once attended. In addition to passing an admission test, this required high grades, particularly in my middle school's art classes, as well as four written recommendations from my art teachers. But as I was (naturally) already a simply marvelous artist, I felt I had little to worry about on that score....

    One of my art teachers at Wagner Junior High School was a Mr. Brooks, one of the few Afro-American teachers Wagner had at the time. Rather on the homely side, Mr. Brooks seemed cold and aloof, his toad-like features fixed in a scowl. Naturally my fellow students (largely a pack of bigots) hated his guts. One day Brooks left the classroom on an errand, leaving the blackboard completely unattended --just waiting for one little creep to go up and write the following:

    Everybody thought that this was a tremendous scream and howled with laughter, while I writhed in my seat, my advanced social consciousness outraged by this blatant display of ugly racial prejudice. A tremendous struggle of conscience versus natural cowardice took place within my young psyche: should I let this incident pass or should I take issue with it?

    On one hand, prejudice lowered the moral tone of our nation and inflicted pain on innocent people. But on the other hand, to make a stand would expose meto a considerable amount of pain; at the least, slanders and jeers from my fellow students. Or maybe a good beating after school.

    I stood up, shaking, sweating. I pointed out that this was America! ("Shut up, ya faggit!") That it was wrong to judge people by the color of their skin! ("Up yours!") That people should be judged by what was inside them! ("Siddown, fuckface!") This was America, darn it! ("Boooo!!!") I sat down.

    Seconds later Brooks reentered the room. Taking in the blackboard's message with one quick look, his face flushed with fury, he cried out, "Who did this?" And then the trap was sprung....

    "STILES DID!" shouted the entire class with one voice.

    Brocks reamed me out. Up, down, and sideways. Wilting under his stinging invective, speechless with shock and mortification, I was unable to get out a single word in my own defense. In my subsequent attempts to explain, Brooks would turn away from me, totally ignoring my very existence. Needless to say, he didn't supply me with any recommendation for Music & Art. In fact, I got a completely undeserved "D" in that class.

    The whole incident taught me two important lessons about life in these United States:

    This was America.

    And that black people can be assholes, too.



    I was thirteen years old and out on my very first date. Amazingly, I had worked up nerve to ask to ask someone out --and she was one of the opposite sex! Even more amazing, Karen Amberson was one of the most attractive and sought after girls at Wagner Junior High.

    A little background about boy-girl relationships back then in the 1950s. It may be difficult to understand these days, but in the bygone fifties of Norman Rockwell America early teenage sexual activity was much rarer, almost a mystical experience as far as I was concerned. There was early teenage intercourse and then there was spotting schmoos in Central Park. Kids who did *It,* or who were rumored to have done *It,* were in a tiny minority: there was the school Slut and there were the Make-Out Artists (who did *it* with the Slut). For some reason, the former was contemptible, while the latter were admired. Go figure.

    Considering all that, the fact that I carried an aging condom around in my wallet was pretty unusual. I was far from being one of those Make-Out Artists and I didn't know of any Sluts.  I think it was kind of a totem object or good luck piece, far more appropriate for a teenaged virgin than a rabbit's foot. And there was always the chance that I might meet some desperate woman, poor soul, who had contracted some esoteric fatal disease that could only be cured by having sexual intercourse with the first teenaged boy she met on the street.

    Who knows, I could always get lucky!

    So there were, Karen and I, out on our date, and me trying desperately to be witty, debonair, charming. It wasn't a hell of a lot of fun on my end, but things seemed to be going smoothly enough....

    That is, until it came time for me to pay the restaurant bill.....

    With all the sophistication I could muster, I whipped out my wallet. With much panache I whipped out my money --and the condom, which with unerring accuracy sailed across the table to land --plop!-- right in the middle of Karen's bowl of soup.

    We never dated again. Shortly after the above, Karen took up with a Neanderthal jock in our class.



    I was a little pagan when I was twelve years old. All the other kids in my Sunday School class had accepted The Lord as their Savior two years earlier. I was the last hold-out. The problem was, I was skeptical about Baptist doctrine; walking on water and parting the Red Sea seemed a little... fishy. Besides, how did all those animals fit on the ark?  And, finally, there was the personality of Jehovah Himself; quite frankly, he struck me as being rather blood-thirsty, a real unappetizing character.

    Still, the peer pressure exerted on me was very intimidating. I was continually showered with hints while in Sunday School, not to mention all the times I was "witnessed" to. It was pretty embarrassing. But finally I came around.

    I was converted by a man from the Amos n' Andy radio show.

    He was a guest speaker at our Sunday School, an elderly black man who performed magic tricks that illustrated Christian parables. He spoke about many things: The joys of Heaven, the horrible tortures of Hell, the snares and pitfalls of this world --how fame and money had bought him down to the very gutter!

    Tears flowed down the cheeks of this sweet old man as he invited the uncommitted to step forward and make a decision for Jesus, tears that seemed to melt my stony heart as I struggled in my seat, torn between eternal bliss and eternal damnation.

    The big problem was, though, aside from my disbelief in miracles, was that I was extremely shy; for me to actually stand upin front of a roomful of people and admit to being a loathsome sinnerwas extremely difficult!

    As if reading my mind, the old man offered a terrific way out. All the sinner had to do to accept salvation, he suggested, was to stand up during the closing prayer --when all eyes would be shut, all heads bowed. Only God would know.

    Perfect! I started, very quietly, to stand up. Slowly I rose up from my seat.

    And then, halfway to my feet,  all those doubts about the ark, et cetera, came back to me in a rush. Just as silently I began to sit down.

    All around methe urgent whispers hissed out: "Hssst! Go ahead, Steve!" "Hssst! Do it, Steve!"

    I was outnumbered. Two weeks later I was baptized. Water got up my nose. Praise the Lord.



    It was my first job, passing out handbills on 86th street in Yorkville, Manhattan, in the very area where Nazi bunds had met and paraded in during prewar times. Casper Citron was into a different type of politics, though; just a bald and average looking man running for City Council, who needed all the help he could get. That's where I came in. I was considered too young for envelope stuffing, so it was my job to stand outside Citron headquarters and pass out broadsheets describing My Candidate's many sterling virtues.

    It soon became clear that this was a much sought after position because there was somebody who was after my job: a little boy, brat, actually,  who badgered, and hectored, and pleaded with me for the high honor of distributing Casper Citron handbills. And when I refused, he began kicking at me, snatching at the leaflets, spitting on me. Unfortunately, he was a little too fast for me to wring his neck, always dancing out of range at the last minute.

    Eventually he wore down my resistance and I gave up, handing him a few hundred handbills. He walked up to Third Avenue with them and I went back to earning my salary....

    Minutes passed. And then something caught my eye, something in the free-flowing stream that ran down the gutter of 86th street: hundreds of Casper Citron leaflets floating down to Second Avenue!

    Half a block away, up on Third, I could make out two small figures. One, the smaller, was struggling and flailing in the grip of a larger figure --who seemed to be wearing a blue uniform. And when the officer complained at Citron HQ, I got quite a tongue-lashing.

    That wasn't the end of it. While I was getting my little talking-to, the source of my troubles had crawled through the window of the Casper Citron sound truck, locking himself in.

    "DON'T VOTE FOR CITRON!"he bellowed into the loudspeaker, "CITRON EATS IT! CITRON IS A FAG!" And a lot of other, much more livid invective. It took two cops two hours to get him out of that truck, and he never paused for breath during the entire session.

    It was the first time I had ever been fired. As for Casper Citron, he lost the election and never made it to City Council. He did eventually land a prominent position in Animal Control, however.



    I had been out of the army for six months in 1967 when Dan Adkins told me he no longer wanted to continue on with the pencilling of Marvel Comics' Doctor Strange. Perhaps few people remember Dan's activities in s.f. fanzine fandom, but in the late fifties he and Bill Pearson ( who is currently editing Witzend) were producing the most attractive dittoed fanzine, Sata Illustrated, that I've ever seen --a fanzine that was instrumental in getting me into fandom. And Adkins' drawing style was quite an influence on my early output. So when Adkins and Pearson moved to New York, it was only natural for me to seek them out. We had become friends and I had gotten into the habit of hanging out at Dan's studio, sometimes assisting in minor art chores.

    So when Dan dropped his news, I leapt at this possible chance for me to break into the comics biz. I had been slaving long hours as a paste-up artist in an advertising art studio and although the pay was quite nice, the work was dull and my boss was the type who, f' example, thought nothing of ripping phones from the wall when in the throes of one of his many temper tantrums. Besides, I would be doing something that would be entertaining people (including myself!) rather than helping to persuade people to buy detergents, anti perspiration sprays, mediocre American beer, and coffin nails.

    For the next four weeks I spent my every spare minute during evenings and weekends drawing up samples for Doctor Strange. They look pretty crude to me now, but for the times I think that they were at the least, er, adequate. When I had enough pages accumulated, I hurried over to Marvel's offices on my lunch hour and dropped the samples off with John Verpotten, their studio manager.

    A few weeks passed. I continued working on at the studio, putting together Marlboro ads and like that ("Marlboro Country" at the time was shot on Staten Island). Finally the phone rang one morning when I was preparing to go to work. It was Dan; his wife had dropped off some of his pages at Marvel the previous day and Flo Steinberg had told her that "Danny's friend" had been hired and that I should get over to their offices as soon as possible. Wow!

    My boss had been particularly irritating that week; picking up the phone, I immediately burned all my bridges. Then I dressed and hurried over to the Marvel offices.

    They had seemingly never heard of me, and it occurs to me now that my samples might never have been eyeballed by anyone. I hadn't been hired --Frank Springer, the artist for Michael O'Donoghue's "Phoebe Zeit-Geist," was going to be drawing Doctor Strange."Fabulous Flo" had gotten the two of us mixed up....

    It took me another three months to land another advertising job. My enthusiasm for drawing for the comics had somehow dried up after this experience, and work at the new studio  chewed up all my spare time for years to come, Eventually I did get full-time work for Marvel, a five year gig as a penciller for Marvel's British department, as well some work for their Star Comics line, Royal Roy ("He's A Prince Of A Boy!").

    Never did get to do anything on Doctor Strange, though.

--Steve Stiles