There were some people who were missed at LoneStarCon. The normally irrepressible
Julie Schwartz, unable to attend due to ill health, has promised he'll be at
Bucconeer this August. Someone else who was suffering from ill health was Bill
Rotsler; unfortunately he was much more seriously ill than most fans had imagined,
and his death not all that long after LoneStarCon was a shock to us all. We're
closing this issue with a remembrance of Rotsler by one of his many friends.
It was sad duty indeed, helping Paul Turner and Bill Warren and others clear out the vast lode that was Bill Rotsler's estate. He was remarkably systematic, but his eroding health had led him to simply stack when before he had filed, and the house was crammed with the memorable and mysterious.
WmR had several rooms devoted to art, a vast back file of work no one had ever seen. Most impressive was a room I had never visited, holding hundreds of loose leaf binders, each neatly labeled on the spine, each holding hundreds of pages of quotations. I took the SCIENCE binder, and the Eaton collection at UC Riverside may well take the rest, as well as a literal car load of original Rotsler art.
Much space, including a back yard shed, was packed with models for fumetti, the craft of making cartoons by photographing arranged small objects. Bill had devoted years to stockpiling materials and trying techniques, but it proved cheaper to just have cartoonists draw panels, so nothing ever came of it. Odd artifacts turned up, including an entire bag of dildos. Rotsler was legendary for sending out Christmas cards with big photos of him surrounded by naked ladies. Even so, it seemed there were more dildos here than any conceivable need would require. It took Bill Warren a while to figure out that they were to be painted and used as spaceships in fumetti.
Of fanzines there were few, many singed at the edges from his fire of fifteen years before. I took away old Kteics and Masques and have enjoyed visiting the WmR of that era. Poignant memories. When I was fifteen I had sent him an awkward early issue of Void, and he replied with a letter deftly ignoring the issue, except that I had sent it in trade. He noted that he ran off few copies of his own fmz, and they went only to people he found "irresistibly fascinating." The short note ended, "Become irresistibly fascinating and we'll see."
The letter was typed on the back of a mimeoed sheet of sentences in capitals (and justified!), apparently quotations from his friends. At fifteen I found those amusing lines suggested a bright, quick adult world I hungered to join. Sitting in damp postwar 1955 Germany, California was a golden beacon, where people said things like:
If you don't like it that way, I'll dry my tongue off. I just told the man selling poppies I had a silver plate in my head and he went away. Stop using those fancy dirty words! She described him as a sentimental sadist. That's no way to practice for your urinalysis! She left his bed, bored. He made the 'v' sign but forgot one finger. I often think that the purest form of artist is one who laughs only at his own jests. He was invited to give a lecture at the child molesters annual banquet. Why, these are just interlineations laid end to end!
I reached that nirvana in 1963 and never left, meeting WmR at my first LASFS Thursday night in June, 1963. Going through his fanzines, I found that sheet of quotations: the quote-cover for Masque #2; and finally read the issue, a yellowing missive from a witty, bouncy world. Burbee's "How to Stop Writing for Fanzines, Part 2" was the feature.
WmR was one of the best people I ever knew. He loved concise wit. His many rules such as "Funny is better than serious. Short is better than long. Short and funny is best," is perhaps the more revealing of him.
Graceful, courteous, he made everyone a friend. His talents spanned sculpture, drawing, cartooning, writing, film-making, photography, and much else, but he was natural and even off-hand about his range.
At the 1997 Loscon we had a memorial panel with Paul Turner, Bill Warren, Marv Wolfman, and Len Wein. A side exhibit showed photos of WmR in Army uniform, plus a photo album from the late 1940s when he was in art school. Bill Warren told how Bill had talked of writing a book titled Listen Up, Kid for his grandchild, to whom he left everything. But who should he get to illustrate it? When Bill Warren said, "Do it yourself!" WmR blinked; "I never thought of that." In his opinion, his serious sf art was his best work; most people favored the cartoons. Yet he never tried to become an sf illustrator.
Through all the erosions of health, he never lost the ability to surprise and amuse. In the last year I let all the money incoming from our collaborative novel, Shiva Descending, go to Bill, not taking my cut. He discovered this and when I saw him next he said very seriously, "I found out. Thanks. Don't do it again." And he meant it. He had his pride, and his illness wounded it profoundly. I ignored his wishes; he was broke.
Rescued from the house came forty pages of pure WmR in 1985, a diary of his many interests, with cartoons and photos. I assembled them and gave copies to his many friends. I titled it Last Masque, a warming glimpse of him at a better time, the way I want to remember him: always irresistibly fascinating, Rotsler the grand.
Title illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein
Bottom illustration by Ian Gunn & William Rotsler