When Comic-Con International in San Diego originally scheduled the "Inside the Shadow Show" panel, it was meant to focus on Ray Bradbury's lasting impact in literature, film, comics and beyond, explained moderator and IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall. It was also supposed to discuss "Shadow Show," the anthology where comic creators Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Margaret Atwood and more pay tribute to the timeless storyteller.
"That was the focus of the panel on June 5, when Mort asked me to moderate. That all changed a bit on June 6," Ryall said, recalling the day Ray Bradbury passed away. "That's the still the focus of why we're here, but now I really want this to be a celebration of Ray's life, as well as his legacy."
Although there was an official celebration held for Bradbury on Saturday, the Thursday panel was the first chance of the show for fans to pay tribute to the late writer, and they did so by packing the room. The panel featured guests and "Shadow Show" contributors Margaret Atwood ("The Handmaid's Tale") and Joe Hill ("Locke & Key"), as well as the book's co-editors Mort Castle and Sam Weller, who is also Ray Bradbury's official biographer.
"I felt sad when I first heard the news, but I started thinking about it, and it's hard to feel sad. He was 91 years old, and Ray always felt like be belonged to the eons," Ryall said. "He always felt like he belonged to another era, but he also belonged to us -- and he belongs to the future."
Hill recalled reading a lot of Bradbury before really knew who the author was. His father, Stephen King, had a box set of EC Comics' "Tales From The Crypt" that would feature Bradbury tales, official and not-so-official.
"There's a great Ray story about all those adaptations; EC started ripping him off in the 1950s," Hill said. "They'd read his stories, they'd love them, they'd illustrate them -- the only part they'd forgot was the part where it said 'Based on a story by Ray Bradbury.' Ray loved the comics. Ray saw them and liked them -- he let the first couple rip-offs slide, and then the third one rolled around and he sent a letter.
"What the letter said was, 'I really love your adaptations of my work, they're excellent pieces, all of them. I assume it's been so busy in the office that you haven't had the chance to send me the $50-a-story royalty, so I'll look for that.'"
Weller explained that part of the reason he was granted access to become Bradbury's official biographer for the last 12 years was that "he loved the fact that my introduction to him was in utero," as his mother read stories to him while she was pregnant. The first book he actually read of Bradbury's was "The Illustrated Man," which he read when he was 11.
"The last time I saw him was in April, and he knew that this panel was coming together…and that this book was going to come out, and he said 'I'm going to join you. I love Comic-Con,'" Weller recalled. "I was with him five times at this convention. I've seen some familiar faces. He really, desperately wanted to join us here today. And, you know, it might sound corny, but I think he is here in spirit, certainly. He loved all you beautiful freaks."
Ryall posed the question to the panel of how they each felt Bradbury was able to transcend so many boundaries in his writing and reach so many people. "Nobody told him not to," Atwood replied, to applause.
Hill explained that discovering something like "Farenheit 451" when you're twelve years old can light up the fuse box in your brain. Recalling the first time he read "Death Is A Lonely Business", borrowing his parents' copy, Hill said, "I started reading it, and almost within a page, I was completely astonished. It was like the moment when Dorothy steps out of the black and white house in to the color world of Oz. I had never read something that I had seen in such color. I think that was a characteristic response to Ray's work."
Weller said part of the reason Bradbury was able to appeal to so many people was because he was a defiant creator who colored outside the lines -- and wherever he damn well pleased. "Jump off a cliff and build your wings on your way down," was a favorite quote of the late author's that exemplified his philosophy perfectly.
Weller also said a key to Bradbury's universal appeal was that he cared about people. "When [Ray] came to Comic-Con, he went out on the floor," Weller said. "I remember once, a man came up, and said, 'I grew up in South Central LA and I didn't join a gang because I had you and Asimov and Clarke. You were my gang. Thank you.' I looked at Ray, and he was weeping. He wrote about people, and he cared about people."
Talk to turned to how the writers in "Shadow Show" approached their individual stories for the collection. Weller explained it was important for the writers not to produce a sequel, or use Bradbury's ideas, but create something true to themselves, something that is "the reflection of who we are, and what Bradbury's influence on us all was."
"The mandate was to write a story that was decidedly Joe Hill, because Joe Hill also has Ray Bradbury in his heart and in his mind," explained Weller, who said he read many of the stories from the collection to Bradbury, and he was excited and grateful for the all the writers that contributed stories.
Hill explained that his story is about a sea monster that washes ashore and the kids that play with it. "Almost as soon as I had that idea, I thought, wow, what a Ray Bradbury idea." Two days after he finished writing the tale, he got an email from Weller, asking if he wanted to do something for a Ray Bradbury anthology.
Atwood didn't talk about her story, but revealed that Bradbury was partly the basis of the character Alex in "The Blind Assassin", being a hard-working writer that pushed himself to make living off of writing a story a week.
After a quick rundown of the panelists' favorite Bradury stories, the panel opened to questions and remembrances of the author from the audience. First to the microphone was a librarian who called Ray Bradbury one of her library's biggest proponents when they were facing cuts. She called "Fahrenheit 451" "the librarian's book" because they feature it prominently every year during their banned books display allowing people to see the importance of books and helping public libraries become stronger because of it.
Ryall told a personal story from 12 years ago, when he saw that Bradbury was speaking at a local Los Angeles library. He wandered over, and struck up a conversation with the writer afterwards. Bradbury's hearing was gone, but he still wanted to chat, so he asked Ryall to shout louder and louder into his ear at the library -- which caused a fair share of attention.
Asked how they thought Bradbury was able to straddle the line between genre fiction and literature, Atwood simply answered, "How about, 'He's good?'" She followed up by adding that if you made a list of the essential books of the 20th century -- books you need to read to understand the last 100 years -- she'd bet there'd be at least one Ray Bradbury book on there.
There was a bittersweet moment when Weller noticed that a convention volunteer who had frequently help escort Bradbury around Comic-Con was in attendance. Asked to stand up and be recognized, he was met with applause from the crowd.
"I'm so happy to see you here," Weller said.
Weller talked of how Bradbury was always concerned with immigration issues, civil rights and how prejudice had always bothered him tremendously, as well as influenced his writing. Asked what Bradbury thought of the budget cuts to NASA, Weller replied that Bradbury had loved space travel. "He said space travel can replace war for us."
Ending the panel, Ryall shared a story of a young Ray Bradbury as a kid at a carnival in 1932 -- someone touched his head with static electricity, causing his hair to all stand up. After, they said he'd live forever -- and a quote from the late author.
"Go, children. Run and read. Read and run. Show and tell. Spin another pyramid on its nose. Turn another world upside down. Knock the soot off my brain. Repaint the Sistine Chapel inside my skull. Laugh and think. Dream and run and build."