During last year's Comic-Con International: San Diego I met comics writer Beau Smith. One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Genuinely interested, accomodating and an all around good guy and he's got the look of a big ol' teddy bear to go along with it. So, when later in the convention someone said Beau's known as "The Manliest Man in Comics," well, my interest was piqued. I learned more and discovered that in his youth it wasn't unusual for Beau to find himself in a good old fashioned brawl on a pretty regular basis. What? This teddy bear of a man used to beat people up? That seemed entirely unlikely, and anyone who's met him would agree, but it's all true. Of course he's changed his ways since, but the history is still there.
A while back I asked Beau to share that story with me for possible use on CBR. He came through and shared quite an interesting story and I thought it would be perfect to share with all of you here in The Hot Seat. Below you'll find two chapters of what is ultimately a three-part story. Beau will share the third part of his story in the future, but for now enjoy the story of a young man growing up in tough times and you'll see how his early experiences helped shape his life as a man and a comic writer.
-- Jonah Weiland
Beau: The Younger Years
Gettin' pegged as "The Manliest Man In Comics."..."Comics Last Real Man"...and so on...I got into this business back in 1985. I was lucky enough to make some really good friends right off the bat. Ones that are still my closest pals. People like Chuck Dixon, Flint Henry, Ted Adams, Tim Truman, Mark Schultz, Tim Harkins, and the list goes on and on. As we all got to know each other things from our past got spilled over beers and long distance phone calls. So in some part the legend, if you will, got started from there.
We'd all get together at conventions and they would talk to others and the stories would get passed around like a cheap bottle of booze. Everybody'd take a drink and think it tasted sweeter than the last.
I guess the whole thing really got started as a kid. I had what you'd call a regular "Leave It To Beaver" kinda' childhood. Nothing that Jerry Springer or any of those other trash mongers would ever wanna feast on. I grew up loving to watch TV, movies, play army with my buddies, make up great adventures with my toy cowboys and dinosaurs, loved sports and all the usual stuff that young guys like. I have to say that I had a real fondness for John Wayne movies, TV shows like The Rat Patrol, Combat and most any western that came on. The same went for comic books. I always loved the characters that knew right from wrong and weren't afraid to defend what they believed in. The comics that really hooked me were the late 60's Marvel Comics. Stan Lee had this great way of making a character heroic, tough and able to spit out some wisecracks at the same time. I loved that.
The major influences, though, were my mom and dad. I don't mean to sound corny, but it's true. I can promise you that you have NEVER met a family like mine. Loud, wild and always proud. My parents were only 19 years older than me. I always seemed to have the youngest parents at PTA. They were fun and all my friends loved to come to my house to see what was going on. My dad, "Big Rog" (Roger Smith), was 6 feet 1', 250 lbs of burly man. Everybody loved him and no one crossed him. He was a lot like Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza. A lovable bear of a man.
My grandpa Smith had Smith Music Company. Ya know...pinball machines, pool tables, juke boxes. They had what you call "locations". That would be food stores, soda shops and beer joints where they would have their machines. Mostly beer joints. That's where the real money was made. Back when my Grandpa started the business in the 40's there were wild times. Lots of thuggery, turf battles and a little intimidation. Rivals would tend to get heavy handed with each other over locations. Grandpa, like my dad, always carried a gun. You never knew when some drunk seeing your count out lots of money from a machine would get the bright idea to liberate it from you in a semi-rough manner. Most of the time it was sorted out with fists. Sometimes a blackjack or whatever was handy at the moment. The gun was always there in case the odds were too much or it came down to life and death. To my knowledge my grandpa or dad never killed anyone.
It wasn't unusual to be eating breakfast and see that dad grew a black eye over night or his knuckles were coated with scabs and dried blood. I'd ask him and he would tell me that some fella that had too many drinks, wanted to share in the company's wealth without working and he had to talk him into another line of work. One more suited for his talents. I kinda' understood what he meant.
Dad always told my brothers and I that you never start a fight. He also said that you stand your ground when you or someone you love is being wronged. That's when you don't back down from a fight. You do your best and even if you get beat or hurt you know that you gave it your best shot and stood up.
Well, at that age, 5th grade, I had experienced the usual run-ins any kid that age had. Fights with my brothers, friends, and stuff. Nothing of any real serious nature.
Not until that summer between 6th and 7th grade.
Summer vacation. My friends and I were all out playing. Passing ball. that kinda' stuff. Well, back in the day we had what we called "Hoods". Guys that cussed, smoked and knew more than any other kid our age. Most of the time they had flunked a couple of grades and tended to take out any frustrations they had as bullies. I'm sure they didn't have the best of home lives, but at that age we didn't care. We just wanted to make sure it wasn't us that got held down and were made to eat grass. Kinda like a bad prison movie without any nasty shower scenes.
On this bright and sunny day a hood rode by on his bike. Bigger than us, smoking...the whole nine yards of bully. One of my pals thought he'd be funny and yell at the hood as he rode by. I guess he was carried away with the mood of what he hoped would be a mob mentality. The moron was wrong. He yelled at the hood to "Stay off of our block!". We all kinda' froze there in time as we heard these dumb-ass words freely march from his mouth.
The next thing we see is his bike tires skidding in a turnaround. We hear him ask a question that had mention of intercourse in it and then he started back in our direction. He didn't look real happy either.
We all didn't know if we should run or what. We just kinda froze there. He slammed his bike down on the grass and asked us which one of us (female anatomies) said that. A chorus of "Not Me" rang out. Bad for us...he didn't believe us.
He shoved a couple of us and flicked his smoke at us. He used more cuss words that we had only heard a few times and were still confused about their true meaning. No one would ante up on who yelled at him. We were either too scared and forgot or we really didn't wanna rat on one of our own. I think it was the too scared part. Like most bullies he wasn't real bright. He wanted a victim, but didn't know which one to pick. I guess he thought we'd give up the guilty party and he could begin the beating. Our silence musta confused him a bit. So he gave the roulette wheel of bullydom a spin and came up with me. He asked me how old I was. I told him. He smiled and said that he was only two years older than me. He said I was the tallest of the group so I would have to fight him.
If only winning the lotto was this easy.
I made quick mention that I had no real desire to clean his dirty knuckles with my face. He turned to my group of pals and asked them if they wanted to see him fight me. Like a barnyard full of chickens I heard them all cackle "Yes."
Call me Custer. So much for my visions of the cavalry coming to the rescue.
He proceeded to shove me and call me all sorts of names that I knew weren't good. I didn't know what to do. I was filled with the group fear that we all seemed to have and all I wanted was out of there. The bully shoved some more and told me to take the first punch. It was then that tears started to well up in my eyes. Fear, frustration and not knowing what to do. He saw that I was starting to cry. He pounced on that. He told me that if I cried he wouldn't beat me up. He turned to all my friends and ordered them to laugh at me while I cried.
Of course they laughed like the prettiest girl in school had em' down and was tickling them with a feather.
My mind was racing at that point. Escape was the main thought. I had to get away from that place and most of all that situation. I was wearing humiliation all too well at that point.
At school I was the fastest runner. No one in the whole school could ever beat me in a race on the playground. I even used to beat other boys a lot older than me. The light in my pointy little head went off. I knew this guy couldn't catch me. I was so juiced up with emotions at that point I doubted if Bullet Bob Hayes (At that time the fastest man on the planet) could catch me.
So I bolted.
I was right about that. There was no way he could've caught me. He didn't even try. He and my so-called pals just laughed as I flew the coop. In reality I guess he didn't wanna fight at all. He saw that he had the fear factor working for him and wanted to see how far he could push it. Too bad I didn't know that then.
I went home and locked myself in the bathroom. I was crying that kinda cry where you lose your breath and kinda stutter like a baby. I was never so ashamed in my life...and I wasn't even sure why. Was I so afraid of getting hurt? Was it the embarrassment of being humiliated in front of my friends? Yeah...that was a part of it. But most of all it was because I felt like I had let myself down.
My big mouth brothers told my mom what happened. She tried to talk to me, but I was too ashamed. I just sat there in my room and felt really bad. I sat there and calmed down after a while. I had all these little kid thoughts running through my head. Stuff like John Wayne would never have done that....or Captain America, or Sam Troy on the Rat Patrol......most of all...my dad would have never ran.
Later that night my mom filled my dad in on what had happened. He and I had a little talk. He was pretty cool about it. I told him the whole story. He listened. He told me that that kinda stuff happens every day. It even happened to him when he was young. He said that he was bigger than most of the kids his age and that made the older boys always want to pick on him. He said that he wore glasses back then and that was a real target for crummy comments and other kids taunting. I asked him what he did. His answer kinda surprised me.
He said he took it.......
For a while.
He told me that he took the abuse for a little while and then he got tired. Tired of having to think about it all the time. Tired of cursing his glasses when he put them on. Tired of looking for a safe way to walk home after school. Then he told me that he asked himself a question.
What would Rocky Marciano have done?
Well, I knew who Rocky Marciano was. He was my dad's favorite boxer. My dad had told me lots of stories about Rocky and about listening to his fights on the radio. Dad told me that the chance of getting a beating was even better than worrying about getting one all the time. He said that he knew that he might get whipped, but at least he would do his best to fight back and make that person remember that they too were in a fight. Maybe enough to never want to do it again. He said that's the way Rocky Marciano fought. He may have to take a few punches to deliver that one good one, but when he delivered it lots of pain would follow it to the opponent's face.
Dad said that when Marciano fought he always kept coming, possessed by something too intense for description...determination, killer instinct, courage, all of these things and something more. Dad told me that after that day he, as he put it, never let anyone abuse his dignity again. He made it clear that I should never try and take on more than I could. If there are three guys looking to jump you then you should run. Then he added....wait until they're alone and then take em' on one on one.
Without soundin' corny my life changed that day. Other changes would come, but that was the first big one that I remember. I'd like to say that I ran into that hood again and whipped him good, but that never happened. Life went on without him.
Chapter Two: Jr. High and High School
From that day forth I never took unnecessary crap again. My friends even said that something had changed. In Jr. High I had a run in with a bully and got to test my new attitude. I found out I was just as scared and nervous. But there was something different. Instead of channeling those feelings into fear I channeled them into a laser like focus. I thought of my dad and everything that had come before. After I found that the first punch didn't kill me and that the one I landed seemed to bother him it was like giving raw meat to a dog. I have to say I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the strategy of where I was going to hit him, where and what I was going to do next. When he would get a punch in it was like fuel that stoked me up more. At that age I found that kid's don't like getting hit in the face...the nose is a sure show stopper. Dad told me that if you hit another kid in the nose 9 times out of 10 the fight will be over. I tested the theory.
Dad was right.
The kid cried, stopped and kept asking why I hit him in the nose...like it was off limits or something. Word got around that you didn't mess with me because I would do the unthinkable and hit you in the nose. Years later in another little fracas I can just imagine the shock of another guy I got into a fight with a little later that year when I grabbed him by the family jewels and made him dance. That move kept me out of a lot of fights. In a small town a rep grows fast. Mine was that I didn't care if I took a punch and that I would do anything in a fight.
Both of my Grandpa's boxed as did my dad and others in the Smith and Greene family. I took it up after that and really got interested in learning the manly arts. Just like anything there can be a darker side. I started to really enjoy it. Not to the point where I ever started fights or picked on people. But it got to where I really enjoyed putting the hurt on someone and being in the right to do it. I found that I could take punches and I could ignore it. Oh, yeah...the next day it hurt like hell, but that was the next day. Kinda' like a drunk. It feels good while you're drinking, but the next day you wish you hadn't. That was another thing. I really got into another so-called manly thing. I started drinking beer in the 6th grade.
I'd like to use the excuse that things were different then, they were, but that still doesn't mean anyone should be drinking in the 6th grade. I was wrong. Period. I was also lucky. It never got out of control. By the time I got to college everyone else was just starting to drink. It was old hat to me and mine was toning down.
When you drink you're around others that drink. Drinking makes different people do different things. Some it makes happy and very funny. Others it makes mean and nasty. It always made me pretty happy. I wasn't one that drank until he blacked out. I like to have some sense of control. One thing it did do was make me feel even less physical pain in a fight than I already did. In other words I got up when I should have stayed down.
In high school I ran with my cousin and his buddies. We took it upon ourselves that people who took drugs were one step away from being communists. Hell, I thought if you wore bell bottomed pants you were a cross dresser. We used to hunt down the paint huffers on the riverbank and administer our own justice system. We took those long bamboo poles that the crossing guards used and we would go down to the riverbank. That's where the paint huffers would apply their trade on the weekends. We would show up. Tell em' that what they were doing was wrong. That they should be drinking beer instead of rotting their minds with paint fumes. (I never said we had medical degrees.) They would make their violent move to prove us wrong and we would proceed to beat them into submission. We always thought that we were doing them a great service by keeping them from killing themselves by putting all those paint fumes into their lungs. Plus we threw all their paint, drugs and other stuff into the river. I never said we were eco-warriors. What's a few cuts and bruises compared to bad lungs? What reasoning we had!
Sometimes we would manage to get into these really scurvy bars. They were filled with real men. Older working blue collar guys and their less than attractive dates. There we would tend to make them angry by first being there and second by being some what annoying by beating them in pool and looking at their dates. It was in places like these that I first experienced real bar room brawls. Broken bottles, ax handles, and furniture that didn't last too long. We kinda looked at it like others look at going to the gym. A great place to work out. We always knew our limits though. Come in. Cause trouble. Fight for a while and leave before you lose or get really hurt.
-- Beau Smith
We'll get Beau to share the rest of his story in the coming months. It gets even better!
Beau Smith has a variety of projects upcoming you should check out. "Wonder Woman vs. Xena: The Princess Diary Wars" is coming from DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics later this year as are two more "Star Wars Tales" stories from Dark Horse featuring Boba Fett and Darth Maul. Currently Beau is employed as Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Idea and Design Works. Recent works also include "Image Introduces Primate: The Sword Of Darwin" and "Parts Unknown: Hostile Take Over" from Image Comics, plus he contributed to the DC Comics "September 11, Vol. 2" tribute book.
Are you a comics professional interested in contributing to The Hot Seat? Drop Executive Producer Jonah Weiland an e-mail with your idea.
The Hot Seat will return next week with a look at Australian comics from CBR friend Darren Close of OzComics.com.