When a friend request from a man who said his name was Greg landed in Sheila’s Facebook account, she was intrigued. She didn’t know him but accepted anyway.
They quickly started emailing and talking on the phone for hours. He claimed to be working on a rig near Texas and that his contract wouldn’t allow him to leave, which is why they couldn’t meet in person.
Two months later, Greg asked Sheila, 49, to pay his taxes.
“I was resistant at first,” she said. “But he gave me his bank account information. I guess to increase my trust.”
Sheila wired the money. Then she received a message asking her to send more money for an anti-terrorist document fee. That’s when she realized she was being scammed, said Sheila, who asked that her full name be withheld because she feels ashamed and hasn’t told her family and many of her friends what happened to her.
She called her bank and requested to stop payment. But it was too late. In total, she lost $24,250.
The abundance of social media platforms, chatrooms and dating apps has led to a rise in romance scams where people pretend to be potential suitors to solicit money. In 2016, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported 14,546 people were victims of romance or confidence scams, up from 5,791 people in 2014. The financial loss keeps growing as well: victims lost nearly $220 million in 2016, more than double the nearly $87 million lost in 2014, according to the FBI. The Federal Trade Commission also had a spike in the number of complaints about possible romance-related scams, up more two-fold to 11,149 from 2014 levels. And those numbers likely represent just a sliver of the swindles. Shame and embarrassment keep many people from coming forward.
“This is a hugely underreported crime,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, of the FBI’s Houston branch. “We’re anticipating that number rising in the future.”
While singles looking for love cover a wide range of demographics, Beining said scammers prey on the most vulnerable, women over the age of 60, often widowed and not digitally savvy.
“It has a lot to do with how isolated people are from family and friends, from other people who could have warned them,” Beining said.
The scammers usually have a set profile as well. Most claim they lost their wife to some form of cancer, are raising their child alone, work keeps them at a distance — often abroad — and are looking for love. Almost all promise to take care of their new love interest.
In Uniontown, Ohio, Theresa Dies, 70, met a man on Facebook who she said resembled Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The man asked her to send several thousand dollars. She refused but still complained to law enforcement. The authorities, however, couldn’t do anything since a crime wasn’t committed.
“They said, ‘What did you expect?’ They made me feel like the worst scum of the earth.” Dies said. “Why do they have to shame us?”
Many platforms, such as Facebook and Match.com, offer safety tips to users but also have usage waivers releasing them from liability from interactions among members. Cyber criminals are also notoriously difficult to catch.
“In order to sue someone, you have to know who they are,” Jef Henninger, an attorney in New Jersey. “These people are hiding their identities, and trying to prove it wasn’t a gift is difficult. It’s almost like the perfect crime.”
Here are tips experts offer to stay safe online:
1. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know. Ever.
2. If you do send money, get a loan agreement. “To send money to someone you just met online without a loan agreement, you’re just throwing your money away,” said Henninger, a criminal defense attorney.
3. Meet the person in real life. “Be careful when someone is declaring their undying love for you and then refusing to meet in person,” said Beining of the FBI. “If you’re romantically involved with someone they should want to meet you.”
4. Take the relationship slowly. “Get to know the person,” Beining said. “You have to be willing to invest the time in the other person.”
5. Do a background check. “It may not sound romantic,” Beining said. “But get online and do some research about this person you’re talking to.” Beining recommends searching for the person’s photo on other websites and doing a Google search.
6. Get a second opinion. The most vulnerable people are those who are isolated. To prevent this, ask a trusted family member or friend for a second opinion on your new admirer. If it seems too good to be true, they’ll tell you.
Having the right controller in your hands can be a critical step towards gaming domination. Microsoft’s own Xbox One controllers are excellent and always a safe purchase, but the days of all third party controllers being cheapy monstrosities only fit for your little brother are over. Compared to the stock units some of these controllers offer a bit more panache, more features and customization, and other niceties and customization options. They’re often cost a little less, too.
To help you sort it all out we’ve compiled a list of the best third-party controllers for the Xbox One. These will appeal to both serious gamers and those who just want to explore other options. If we missed one let us know in the comments below!
The Razer Wildcat delivers a focus on build quality and customization options targeted at hardcore gamers. It comes with four programmable buttons and a quick control panel for functions like toggling between profiles or muting the volume to avoid annoying your roommate or spouse. Stiff analog sticks and rubber grips are designed to endure long gaming sessions without causing you to lose your grip.
The Horipad Pro is an officially licensed controller that features extra paddles on the rear that you can map to your preference. The glossy design sets it apart from its rivals, although you may need to keep a rag handy for wiping of all those fingerprints. It’s wired, which saves you the hassle of keeping it charged, but may be a drawback depending on your specific gaming setup.
The Power A Fusion Pro has all the style and pro features of an elite controller, drawing comparisons to Microsoft’s own Xbox One Elite Controller. As mentioned it has a pretty great build, and configurable paddles so you can tweak the gaming experience to be just the way you want.
Representing your favorite NFL team is often a year-round endeavor. To help you in your crusade, the PDP Face-Off Controller can be outfitted with a faceplate from your favorite team, or it can be made to look like a football if you want to keep your options open. I mean… why someone would want a controller with the look and texture of a football we can only guess. But we wanted you to be aware that it was an option.
Singer R. Kelly claimed to have “raised” one of his teenage sexual conscripts since the age of “14 or 15,” according to a sometime member of his entourage who spoke to Jezebel about life inside the singer’s inner circle. The woman confirmed details published this week in a disturbing BuzzFeed story, telling Jezebel that Kelly has five or six women whom he subjects to constant physical, sexual, and psychological control, routinely recording sexual encounters and subjecting his partners to bizarre cult-like behavioral restrictions.
“They’re all above the age of consent,” the woman told us. Two of the women are 18 and 19, while others are in their early to mid-20s. Technically, she said, “they can leave. But it was like witnessing Stockholm Syndrome. All these girls are so nice and trusting and young.”
The BuzzFeed story was written by veteran Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis, who’s been covering Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct against teens for nearly 20 years. DeRogatis received a videotape in 2001 from an anonymous source of Kelly having sex with an underage girl. Kelly was eventually tried on charges of manufacturing child pornography—not rape—but was acquitted in 2008. Kelly has also settled at least four lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct, including women who have accused him of having sex with them while they were underage. An attorney named Susan Loggans told DeRogatis she has settled “numerous” other suits out of court of behalf of alleged victims.
According to DeRogatis’s latest story, the parents of young women who are involved with Kelly believe that he’s holding them against their will and preventing them from talking to their families. Former girlfriends of Kelly’s told DeRogatis that the singer requires his girlfriends to dress in track suits to hide their figures, films his sexual encounters with them and shows the videos to his friends, and takes their phones to keep them from communicating with their loved ones, replacing them with new phones they can only use with his permission to contact people he approves.
Through a representative, Kelly denied the allegations. His attorney Linda Mensch told several outlets, “Mr. Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed by the recent revelations attributed to him,” adding, “Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such accusations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name.” In an interview with TMZ, one of Kelly’s girlfriends, a 21-year-old woman named Joycelyn Savage, denied she was a “hostage” or in a “cult”and said she had chosen not to speak with her family. She declined to say where she was living, if she lived with roommates, or if she was “free to go,” telling TMZ, “I wouldn’t speak on that.”
Mensch didn’t respond to two phone calls and two emails from Jezebel seeking comment. In her place, a spokesperson named Trevian Kutti returned our call. Responding the allegation that Kelly spoke of “raising” a sexual partner from the time she was 14, she told us, “I think these things have to be proven. This is a very strange and unbeknownst allegation to us and there would be no way I could comment on it. It’s irrelevant. We don’t know who you’re talking about. This is just an allegation.”
Kutti denied that any of Kelly’s current sexual partners were underage when he began dating them. “This is a crew of adults here. There are no children. No underage anything. I’ve never witnessed it.”
Kutti denied that any of the women are kept against their will. “I’ve known Mr. Kelly since 2005. What I will say is anyone who is involved with Mr. Kelly is free to come and go and communicate and eat and sleep when and where and how they please. It’s a very sad situation where it comes to a point where people are being deemed captive or enslaved when they’re truly free human beings. Mr. Kelly is an upstanding human being and it’s very saddening that these allegations are being orchestrated.”
“Kim” (Jezebel is withholding the woman’s real name and some details of her identity to protect her privacy) told us that she first met Kelly at one of his concerts roughly one year ago, where she was invited onstage and then to an after-party. That night, he slipped her his number and told her, “Baby girl, I want you.” The next day, they met up at a hotel where he was staying and had sex in his tour bus. Kim said Kelly paused their lovemaking long enough to ask her, “Baby girl, how old are you?” Afterwards, he put her number into all three of his iPhones and told her he wanted to see her again soon.
She provided screenshots of text messages she said were between her and Kelly’s assistant, Diana Copeland, as well as a few between her and Kelly (although, she said, “he’s basically illiterate” and prefers phone calls and FaceTime). She also showed Jezebel travel itineraries for the trips she took to see him, hotel receipts, and a photo she took of the singer asleep on a hotel couch. The itineraries and receipts match up with both Kelly’s tour history and travel documented on Kim’s Instagram account.
When I called the number Kim provided for Copeland, Copeland identified herself before saying, “I don’t want to talk to any reporters” and hanging up. She didn’t respond to several subsequent text messages, other than to ask, “What does her claims have to do with me?”
Kim said that over the course of the past year, she flew to see Kelly about ten times, either in his hometown of Chicago, where she said she and other women were put up at the Homewood Suites by Hilton on Grand Avenue, or in cities where he was on tour. She said she had been with Kelly as recently as this summer.
Kim, who is in her mid-20s, told Jezebel that she likes having sex with powerful men and enjoyed partying with Kelly and his crew. “I knew what I was getting myself into,” she said. The other girls around Kelly, however, seemed more star-struck to her and appeared to depend on the singer’s approval.
“All these girls just dote on him,” she said. “It’s so fucked up. They’re completely manipulated and brainwashed.”
Kim wasn’t aware that the other women lived with him, she said, and until reading the BuzzFeed story had been under the impression that all of them were free to come and go the way she was. She would go back to her hotel after her trysts with Kelly and his crew, then fly home to her life and career. Her phone was never taken, and she was never asked to sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement. She was different in other ways too: She wasn’t in the music business (and so wasn’t reliant on promises of career help from Kelly), she declined the MDMA that she says was constantly on offer, she was a few years older than most of the women, and she was white, where the other women were mostly black.
Kim quickly realized, though, that Kelly was “very controlling.”
“When we’re out we’re not allowed to look at anyone,” she said. “We have to keep our heads down. If we’re back in his studio sitting on the couches and he has friends across the room at the bar we can’t look at each other or communicate with each other.” The girls are also instructed to “tell on each other,” she said. “If we’re in an Uber and we chat up the driver we’re supposed to tell him this girl did this or that. He’s very controlling and manipulative. He likes to be in control.” The women are all instructed to call Kelly “Daddy” at all times, she said, while he refers to them as his “babies.” The women can’t enter a room without knocking three times and waiting for permission to enter; they also have to ask permission to leave, she said.
Kelly also forbids the girls to compliment each other on their dresses, Kim said, because that’s too close to complimenting them on their figures. One day, she recalled, they were at lunch, sitting at a sidewalk table outside. A woman walked by whose dress Kim admired. “I was looking at her and he kicked my chair because I was looking up. Just super possessive. It’s a strange kind of dynamic.”
The women are also strictly kept from knowing too much about each other, Kim says. “We’re not allowed to talk about anything. We can compliment shoes or nail polish or make small talk about the weather but we can’t talk about any personal details.”
Kim said that she’s never witnessed Kelly force himself sexually on any of the girls, but that his control over them is absolute.
“He never makes threats,” she said. “But the girls are so eager to do whatever he wants. He’ll wake us out of a dead sleep and say to this girl, ‘Suck my dick,’ or to these two girls, ‘Kiss on each other,’ and immediately without thought they jump right to it. It’s just bizarre. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before honestly.”
“It’s not non-consensual, I guess,” she added. “But I don’t know if they even realize the situation they’re in is wrong.”
Kim said that Kelly has at least three iPads filled with footage of both his daily life and his sexual encounters. “He records everything. Absolutely everything,” she said, including the two of them having sex. “A lot of times he doesn’t have sex with the girls, he just likes to watch them on each other and records them.”
Kim also said that she’s never seen “any violence whatsoever,” although the BuzzFeed story alleged that he slapped one woman with an open hand for being too friendly to a Subway employee. But she vividly remembers a bizarre punishment one of the girls, a 19-year-old, was subjected to when she didn’t perform sexually in the way Kelly expected.
Kim said that she and the girl were instructed by Kelly to “take off your clothes and act like you miss each other.” He got out his iPad and started filming, she said, but was dissatisfied by the 19-year-old’s performance. He told Kim to sit on the couch and took the 19-year-old into another room. Twenty minutes later, he called Kim in. Kim knocked in the proper way, then walked in to find the younger girl nude except for one of Kelly’s bigger pieces of jewelry, a heavy chain.
“He had his iPad recording and she was naked except for a big chain and she was running laps from one end of the room to the other,” Kim remembers. “She was running laps around the room and apologizing. She kept saying, ‘I’ve been bad, I’m sorry Daddy,’ shit like that. And I’m standing there and she starts apologizing to me.”
Kim said she told her it was all right, but Kelly cut her off. The younger girl continued in tears, she said, telling her, “I know I have to do what Daddy says, I have to act like I miss you more, I wasn’t getting into it.”
Trevian Kutti, Kelly’s spokesperson, responded to Jezebel’s questions about whether Mr. Kelly records his sexual encounters by telling us, “How would I know that? I’m not sexually involved with Mr. Kelly.”
Kim said that Kelly’s clear favorite among the women she saw is one who turned 18 around December. “She’s apparently been with him since she was 14 or 15. He was telling me that he ‘raised her.’ Those were his words.” While BuzzFeed does describe one 18-year-old from Florida as Kelly’s “Number One girl,” DeRogatis reported that she was 17 when she met Kelly, and none of the other women in the BuzzFeed report appear to have met Kelly at age 15 or younger. Asked for more information about the 18-year-old, and whether she believed her to be the same “Number One girl” mentioned by DeRogatis, Kim said she couldn’t be sure who DeRogatis was describing and that Kelly didn’t allow the girls to discuss their personal lives with one another.
Kim spoke freely and at length for close to an hour. But it did seem curious that while she seems self-aware and independent, she was still comfortable with a situation where she was subjected to such bizarre restrictions and methods of control.
“I’ve been a massive R. Kelly fan for as long as I can remember,” she says. “Since I was little. I’ve always loved his music. And the lifestyle, I guess, is really cool: being brought up onstage, being paid attention to.” She always felt “out of place” in his entourage, she says: “I would just look around at certain points like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’”
Kim explained that until she read the Buzzfeed story, she regarded the situation as bizarre and slightly disturbing, but she had no idea that other women weren’t speaking to their families, that they were dropping out of college, that their loved ones were desperately worried.
“That’s horrific to me,” she says, flatly. “They have no way to get in contact with them—if something happens to these girls they’re not going to know and that doesn’t sit right with me.”
Kim told me that she understood Kelly would probably be able to identify her from what she’d told me. She doesn’t plan to ever fly back to visit him again, she says. “After all this? Absolutely not.”
“He’s really fucked up,” she said, laughing softly. “He’s gotten off for so long. It’s time.”
One fall afternoon in 1969, a heavyset 36-year old man in a toupee named Sheldon Dorf sat at the dinner table of his parents’ house in San Diego, California. He was unemployed and living with them, having tagged along when they decided to sell their Detroit candy factory and retire somewhere nice.
Gathered around him were five scruffy teenage boys: Richard Alf, a 17-year-old former fireworks dealer who sold comic books through the mail; Mike Towry and Bob Sourk, fellow teenage mail-order comics businessmen; Barry Alfonso, a skinny kid who was actually only 12; and Dan Stewart, a comics customer of Alf’s.
This group, who barely knew each other at the time, was there as part of the very beginning of a project that would change their lives, fandom and the broader culture forever: they were inventing Comic-Con, this week beginning its 47th annual iteration. They, and those who would join them in planning the early conventions, were all outsiders who worked together to make a place where outsiders could feel at home.
By any measure, they were massively successful. Today, Comic-Con is one of the biggest cultural gatherings in the world, with events in all 50 states, Canada and the U.K. It draws an average of about 300,000 people combined to just its New York and San Diego outposts every year. In San Diego alone, it completely fills (and spills beyond) the 11 acres of the San Diego Convention Center and contributes a whopping $150 million annually in economic impact to the city. This is to say nothing of the multiple, multi-billion-dollar superhero, science fiction, video game and fantasy franchises which rely on exposure at Comic-Con, and whom the convention relies on to create new fans.
In the late 1960s, the landscape was very different.
“In those days, you were an oddball or an outcast if you were into that stuff,” says Mike Towry, who now runs his own convention, San Diego Comic Fest. “Society looked down on science fiction fans, but even science fiction fans looked down on [comics fans]. We were at the bottom – unless you were into outright pornography, we were as low as you could get.”
In this embattled environment, it was easy for fans to feel a kinship to each other. Alf and Towry’s business selling comics in the mail was more than transactional; they traded letters and developed relationships with people of all ages from all over the country, asking for comic books, swapping personal updates, developing in-jokes and always apologizing for how long they’d taken to reply.
So when they met an older comics fan like Dorf, they were open to hearing what he had to say; each could sense a fellow outcast.
By 1969, Dorf was out of step with society, a square in a culture getting rapidly cooler. He had spent most of his life in Detroit, where he was born, living with his parents on and off. Comics – particularly newspaper comic strips like Terry and the Pirates andDick Tracy, a particular object of obsession – had been his passion since he was a child. When he was 16, he convinced his father to drive 60 miles to a rural Illinois farmhouse so that he could meet Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator. In 1965, Dorf was on the cover of theDetroit Free Press for his massive collection of Tracy memorabilia, including 162 comic books and all 12,479 strips dating back to 1932. Dorf would cut out the strips a put them in huge binders, something he did with many other comics throughout his life.
“I felt they were too good to throw away,” he told the Free Press.
As he got older, Dorf decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to working in comics. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the skills in writing or drawing.
“Shel was always looking for a place in comics,” says Mark Evanier, another person involved in the founding of Comic-Con. He would become a television and comics writer, working on shows like Scooby-Doo,Garfield and Friends, and Richard Pryor’s short-lived Saturday morning show, Pryor’s Place. “But there really wasn’t one for him. He wanted to be paid, he wanted to make a living in comics, but he wasn’t going to write anything, he wasn’t going to draw anything, he wasn’t going to edit anything.”
What he was good at, however, was networking and unabashedly using his connections – no matter how tenuous – to advance himself and accomplish things.
This all came to the fore at that 1969 meeting. Dorf had worked on a fan convention in Detroit, and wanted to do something similar in San Diego. So he was trying to get this group of kids interested in putting on a comic convention with him – and in some sense, for him.
“Boys,” Dorf said to the group in a booming, melodramatic voice. “Who of you is familiar with the work of Jack Kirby?” All fans of comics, they of course knew Jack Kirby, the man who co-created basically every notable Marvel superhero, from Captain America to the X-Men. They all silently raised their hands.
Dorf continued, “How many of you have ever met Jack Kirby?” All of the hands dropped.
“It seemed to us like kind of a weird question – like how would you do that?” says Towry. “These were far-off people on some comics Mount Olympus or whatever.
Without saying a word, Dorf picked up a rotary telephone, and began ceremoniously spinning the dial.
“Hello, Roz?” he said into the receiver, addressing Jack Kirby’s wife. “I’m here with the boys! Is Jack there? Oh, OK, put him on!” And with that, he began passing the phone around the table, from one dumbstruck boy to the next.
Dorf and Kirby were far from old friends. They’d met just a few months before, when Dorf turned up at his house unannounced in the company of a mutual acquaintance.
“If Charlie Manson had showed up at their door, they probably would have said, ‘Hey, come on in!'” says Scott Shaw, a cartoonist and animator involved in planning the early conventions as a 16- and 17-year-old. “They were that friendly to everybody. They weren’t naive, they were just great people.”
This phone call served its purpose, convincing the teens that Dorf was a connected comics insider who could help them put on a convention. This was bolstered a few months later when Dorf organized a field trip for the teens to Kirby’s house.
Kirby met with the boys for hours, despite his reputation as a tireless workaholic. He showed off his artwork, posed for photos, gave advice and patiently answered questions. At a later meeting, he’d even draw the kids into a Superman comic (as villains).
“He never talked down to us,” says Towry. “He would have a conversation with us just like he’s talking to any adult. He would just tell us what was on his mind, what kinds of things he was thinking of, what inspired him, what kind of stuff he found fascinating, and he would answer our questions.”
“He was like an uncle,” says Alfonso. “He was just so friendly and so unpretentious and so nice. I never met anybody like that.”
At that meeting, Kirby agreed to attend their first convention, and also gave the group a crucial piece of advice. They’d been debating whether to limit the convention to comic books or to take a more expansive view to fandom. Kirby told them that they should include everything that fans like, and that “it would be a lot more fun and a richer experience if we included these other things, like film and science fiction and whatnot,” remembers Towry. This advice is one of the unique factors that has kept Comic-Con flexible and diverse over the years: instead of being focused on one thing, it’s focus is really on the idea of fandom itself.
“After that,” says Towry, “it was like, yeah, sure, we’ll put on a comic convention. We talked to Jack Kirby – we can do it! We’ll do anything, Shel’s legit.”
The first Comic-Con was really two conventions, both held at the U.S. Grant hotel in downtown San Diego: a mini-con in March 1970 and a three-day convention the following August. At the time, downtown was a seedy area. The Grant was a once-grand hotel that had fallen on hard times, located just down the road from where sailors from the local navy base would pick up prostitutes.
“It was a fleabag, all right,” says Shaw, “kind of desperate” for business. It was the only place that would agree to host the convention, not just because of comics’ bad reputation, but because a bunch of children weren’t going to spend any money at the bar, a major source of revenue for a hotel hosting a more traditional convention. And even at that, the planners only got the Grant because a friend in local government recommended them. For their first convention, in March 1970, they were given the basement, which was under construction at the time. (Dorf described the location choice with typical mythmaking exaggeration in an interview from in a souvenir booklet for Comic-Con in 1982: “I decided to go for the top, and the top hotel I knew of in San Diego was the U.S. Grant.”)
Aside from Kirby, the other major guest at the first convention was Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and many other science fiction classics. He’s also, inadvertently, the reason Comic-Con is a nonprofit.
Bradbury gave a speech at San Diego State University in late 1969. Dorf and Alf attended, and hung around afterward waiting to chat him up. Eventually, they got his attention by passing him one of Dorf’s binders of old comic strips. They explained that they were holding a convention and they’d love to have him come. Bradbury immediately agreed, but said that he’d need his regular speaking fee, around $5,000 (about $30,000 adjusted for inflation). They didn’t have the money.
“Immediately, they were crestfallen,” remembers Towry. “Shel said he got this kind of lightbulb that went off in his head, about what to say next. He goes, ‘You know, we’re just a nonprofit organization of fans, and we’re doing this as a public service to educate the public about comics and science fiction.’
This, of course, was a lie. Comic-Con wasn’t a non-profit. It wasn’t anything but a bunch of teenagers hanging out to talk to each other.
Hearing this, though, Bradbury said, “‘Oh, OK! I’ll come for free.'”
Afterward, the organizers quickly began figuring out how to actually become a non-profit.
A key factor in making things like this a reality was the logistical help of another group of fans centered around a local publisher and bookseller named Ken Krueger, a level-headed businessman with his eye on the bottom line. His store Ocean Books sold roughly equal amounts of comics and pornography, a strategy to stay afloat; the pornography was more profitable than the comics. Gregarious and kind, friends remember him in a Hawaiian shirt, smoking a cigar, having a celebratory drink.
It was Krueger who was budget-conscious, signed contracts with venues, and generally led the idea of comic convention from a kitchen table to reality.
Still, it was a shock to everyone what a success both the mini-con and first convention were, with more than 300 people attending the August convention.
“There was a sense of, my god, we got 300 people here, isn’t that amazing?” says Evanier. “If you had said at this point, one day there will be 10,000 people at the convention, they’d have said you were crazy. If this thing tripled in size, that would be amazing.”
“I was delighted,” says Shaw.
In the convention, they’d created an alternate reality for themselves, populated by fans from around the country. For many of them, this was their first time being surrounded by like-minded people.
“It was just wonderful to be in this environment where what you were into was normal and cool,” says Towry. “And you met all these other people that liked all the same things that you did – that was a wonderful experience.”
Many of the founders would go on to successful careers. Barry Alfonso became a songwriter, writing a number-one hit for country singer Pam Tillis, and lyrics for the title song to early Tom Cruise film All The Right Moves.Mike Towry runs his own comic festival. Richard Alf passed away in 2012 after a stint owning his own comics store. Scott Shaw worked extensively on children’s television in the 1980s, writing and producing for shows like Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, Camp Candy,andThe Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. They all credit their early work at Comic-Con with giving them the connections and confidence to succeed.
For Dorf, things were less smoothly. In a cruel bit of irony, the man whose primary asset was unabashed fandom and an ability to connect fans with creators – skills which he used to help found the most successful fan convention of all time – lived the bulk of his life feeling slighted by his creation and jealous of the younger people who found the creative and professional success he never had.
Though everyone interviewed for this article had positive things to say about Dorf’s involvement in the con – to a large extent, it was his idea – he was also a prickly personality, hard to get along with for even those who most wanted to support him. He died in 2009, alienated from the convention and having pushed away many of those he worked with.
Stories of his bad and inexplicable behavior are numerous, from personally handing out hundreds of free tickets to the convention at a San Diego shopping center in the days when tens of thousands of people were regularly attending, to sending an original founder a note on the birth of his child which said, “If you didn’t lose weight, your son will grow up ashamed of you.”
To some extent, he even grated on the unflappably magnanimous Kirby, frequently bringing large groups to the house without really letting on what he was up to.
“One time, my then-partner Steve and I get this panicked call from Roz on a Saturday morning,” remembers Evanier, who worked as Kirby’s assistant in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “She says, ‘Shel Dorf’s here, and he’s brought an army with him. Please come out and help me.'”
Evanier and his partner arrived at Kirby’s house to find five cars parked outside and 20 people inside, peppering Kirby with questions, asking for drawings and refusing to leave.
Eventually, Kirby, attempting to gently push everyone toward the exit, said, “Listen guys, we gotta wrap this up, it’s almost lunch time.”
“Oh, good, what are we having?” Dorf replied.
“And the next thing I knew, Roz is sending Steve and me to Jack in the Box to buy hamburgers for 20 people!” says Evanier.
Another visit was even more pointed, remembers Shaw. A group had been talking with Kirby for hours, and it became obvious that it was time to go. Kirby, a famous workaholic, had been neglecting work on his new D.C. project The New Gods and needed to get back to the drawing board.
Again, trying to tactfully get everyone to leave, Kirby said, “Well, boys, is there anything else I can do for you?”
“And Shel pulls out, I’m not making this up, a stack of those New Gods comics, and a tape recorder,” said Shaw. “He says, ‘Jack, what I’d like you to do is, could you read the copy, the dialogue from all the first few issues, and read the dialogue in the voice that you imagine they have, and annotate anything along the way as to why you did things one way or the other.
And Jack just looks at him and says, ‘No.'”
Today, Comic-Con transcends its origins in a thousand ways: every trailer which premieres there, every cosplay gallery that gets published, every time you see a celebrity’s Wikipedia photo taken there, every time it’s referenced or made fun of in movies or TV reminds you of how central the convention and the particular kind of admirably obsessive fandom it’s helped bring into the mainstream is to the current state of pop culture.
Even given its phenomenal growth, it remains an intimate experience for many attendees.
“Comic-Con is that kind of a place where you can go around a corner and see or meet somebody that might change your life,” says Shaw. “You may meet a friend that you have forever, or somebody that you have a romantic relationship with, or a publisher that says, ‘Boy, I like your stuff, I’d like to do this or that with it.'”
The thing that makes Comic-Con so vital today goes all the way back to its founding. A small group of people wanted to take some existing relationships with far-flung people they only knew through writing, and bring it into reality. They wanted to be in the same room with the people who created the things they loved. They wanted a place where they could just be themselves, loving the things they loved in passionately, uncool, over-the-top ways. And they didn’t really care what anybody else thought about that. Throughout all the changes in the past four decades, that instinct, born at a kitchen table with one adult and a few teens, has hardly changed at all.
To the Summerfest fans still wringing out their clothes from this year’s infamous Day 1 downpour, the poppy RB trio SHAED – who paddled its way onto the Briggs Stratton Big Backyard stage that night – feels your pain.
“We only got to play four songs because it was just a torrential downpour, and the lightning got really bad,” recalled lead vocalist Chelsea Lee. “We had a really fun time – but definitely very rainy. We were bummed that we couldn’t stay longer and hang out, because we were planning on seeing a bunch of bands that night. But the rain was just crazy!”
Thankfully, weather shouldn’t be a factor Thursday night when the group – made up of Lee and twins Max and Spencer Ernst – takes the stage at The Rave, opening up for Sir Sly at 8:30 p.m. with its smooth, hypnotic, groove-infused brand of electro-pop.
Before they hit Milwaukee for the second time in less than a month, we caught up with the band to chat about their first jaunt on the summer music festival circuit and what’s next.
OnMilwaukee: What is it like behind the scenes, behind the stage at Summerfest?
Chelsea Lee: We did a couple of festivals this summer – and we’ve never done the festival thing before – so it’s been a brand new experience for us, which is great. With Summerfest, we just kind of showed up, and our friends in MisterWives, they were playing right after us, so we got to hang out with them and get all of our stuff set up. It’s very fast-paced, so once you’re there, you’re moving all the time. But we had a great time; it was a really fun festival.
What’s been your experience like on the festival circuit for the first time?
CL: So we did Firefly, Electric Forest, Mamby on the Beach and then we did Summerfest. For me, I think the most surprising thing was I didn’t realize that there were this many people on the planet. At Electric Forest, there were thousands of people just walking around. And it’s definitely a marathon day – you get there early and spend all day there, then you play the show at night – but we had so much fun and had really beautiful weather for most of them and made a lot of new fans.
At Firefly, we played two sets: one was an acoustic set and one was a regular set. For our acoustic set, our equipment kind of blew up because it was so hot and it was sitting in the sun. So we had to play a very stripped down version of our music, and people loved it. So we’ve had a really great festival experience.
How do you prepare for the festival circuit, both in terms of the music and in terms of yourselves for the grind?
CL: Health wise, stay hydrated because every single festival we went to was so hot and such a marathon of a day. Be sure to have water and eat snacks – and we were sunscreen-ing it up.
Spencer Ernst: Physically, we’re lucky that Chelsea is a really good cook, and she also makes sure that Max and I aren’t eating unhealthy things. She’s kind of cracking the whip in that regard. And for the music, we have six songs out now, and we have a couple new ones. And we have to play 45-50-minute sets, so we try to put the songs that we have in an order that really have a nice flow and also try to add certain elements to the songs to keep people interested. We just try to play our set, share our music with people and it went over well.
Did you guys get to explore Milwaukee at all before or after Summerfest?
SE: We went to a couple of spots, looking for – it sounds cliché – the best cheeses. We did do that. I can’t really remember the names of the restaurants. But when we’re in festival season, it’s hard to explore the cities you’re in.
On your EP, “Just Wanna See,” from what I understand, you wrote it apart from one another or not living together. How’d you overcome that distance aspect and bring the elements together?
SE: For the songs on the EP, there were definitely a lot of songs that just started with Max and I working on the music, and then Chelsea came in and we worked on melody and lyrics and stuff like that. But there were also songs, like “Just Wanna See,” where we were able to write together from scratch and write it from the beginning of the song with all three of us in the same room. Obviously, that was easier, but we’re all very close, and even though we weren’t living together at the time, we were hanging out three or four days a week. So we still got to spend a lot of time together during the process.
Is a full-length album in the works soon too?
Max Ernst: Definitely. We actually have eight songs out: the six songs on the EP, then we released a cover of “Starboy” by The Weeknd, which we did with Spotify in their Spotify Studios in New York, and just released a new single, “Too Much,” last Friday. That’s one of a bunch of other songs that are in the works right now.
What was the thought going into covering “Starboy”?
ME: We were on tour with Marian Hill at the time, and that song came out while we were on tour. And we just fell in love with the song. We were planning on going into Spotify – they do these Spotify singles sessions-type things where you play an original and then you have to play a cover – and we were just really into that song at the time and thought it’d be interesting having a female vocal on the song and put our own twist on it.
Is there another dream song you’d like to cover?
ME: We’re trying to decide on another song right now. One that we’re working on actually in the van right now is – do you remember the song “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit?
ME: I know it’s a rock song, but the melodies actually work really well in an RB context, so we’re working on our own RB, chill version of that song. We wanted a song that everyone would be able to recognize and sing along to, but just make it sound totally different. We’re still working on it now – hopefully it comes together – but I think it’s going to be cool.