A “Can’t Miss” panel at any comic book convention is one that has Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragonés, Stan Sakai, and Tom Luth attending. Such a panel occurred on Thursday, July 20 in Room 8 at the San Diego Comic-Con this year. Before the panel began, Mark arrived early, as he often does, and noticing the name cards, picked up Tom’s and asked if anyone wanted to come up and be Tom during the panel. After receiving several affirmatives, Mark smiled and put the card down, saying, “You don’t want all that work for that money.” Sergio and Stan then appeared, joined Mark on the dais, and the panel officially began.
Tom’s absence was due to the amount of work he’s doing. This had Sergio stating that he understood having a lot of work, since he pencils and inks his own work. He added that Stan used to do it all, too, but now he has an assistant, prompting Stan to say that his wife now does the erasing on his work. Sergio stated his mother once colored some of the black spaces on some pages of Groo in a Chakaal issue, with him giving her the credit “Assist by Granny Aragonés” underneath.
Mark asked if Sergio’s mom understood what he did for a living. He said no. “For my mom success was having a door with your name on it and a secretary.” This had Mark say that janitors have those things, leaving Sergio to respond, “I wish I could have come up with that line.” Mark stated that his mother was hospitalized late in life and she would ask the nurses if their kids watched cartoons. No matter what the nurses said, his mother would say, “My son writes that.” Sergio said that as a son of a refugee, his father wanted him to have a better life than that of the country they left. “My father wanted me to be an engineer. In college I changed to architecture. Parents just want the best for their children.”
It was brought up that last year Sergio received an Icon Award from Comic-Con. “This year,” Sergio added, “the National Cartoonists Society is going to be giving a Sergio Aragonés Award.” Mister Rogers then entered the conversation, as Mark said that he lost once to the famous children’s host for an Emmy. Two years after the fact he meet the man and said, “Oh, you beat me at the Emmys.” This elicited a six minute reply from the host, “You shouldn’t feel that way. Awards are not an acknowledgement of talent. You should feel that you did your best…” This left the audience in stitches. With the awards he’s won listed, Sergio said to Mark, “Stan has four Haxtur Awards.” This had Stan nodding in acknowledgement. “I don’t have any! I want one!” Stan smiled and said they were very big and heavy awards.
These hijinks were stopped when Mark said, “Speaking of Groo…” Issue Four of Groo: Play of the Gods will be on time. Groo Meets Tarzan will be after that, Sergio said. When asked why Groo doesn’t do more crossovers, Sergio stated, “I think crossovers are an intrusion to people who have followed a series.” “Then why do them?” Mark asked. Sergio answered if it doesn’t go against either character’s previous stories, they’re fine, such as the Groo and Conan outing. He didn’t think that Groo and Usagi Yojimbo could ever meet because of the size difference: “Usagi is a little rabbit. Groo would see him and eat him.” Mark interjected that there was no schedule yet for the Tarzan crossover, though Sergio said that something is planned after that, “Not Groo, but we can’t talk about that.” There will be a six issue Groo: Day of the Gods after Play of the Gods.
This lead to the much spoken, but still unseen, collecting of Groo. “We’re finally closing in on collecting Groo,” Mark said. “See, Sergio. They don’t believe us.” This had the audience giggling. “It’s my fault because everything is in boxes,” Sergio said. “Mea culpa.” All of Sergio’s pages are in storage in boxes, but because he has so much work stored it’s difficult to find what’s located where. Mark finished up by saying that there will be about twelve issues in each volume.
Mark told about the time that he and Sergio would go to a Sizzler — a good one — and one day Sergio said he wouldn’t do any more sketches for free because he saw so many of them showing up online. The waitress came to their table, recognized Sergio, asked for a sketch, and Sergio said, “Sure!”
Deadlines were also a topic, with all Sergio recounting how they had a book to get done in ten days and it was done in five. Mark said that was due to Stan turning around his share of the work so quickly. Stan said, “Poor Tom. He gets (a book) last. Tom is always blamed if a book is late. Poor Tom.” Sergio echoed his “Poor Tom.”
Mark realized in front of the crowd that in a few months he and Sergio will have been friends for fifty years. Applause rightly followed this observation. Sergio said, “We’ve only had two fights, and they were solved quickly. The first one was because in a story I had lambs eating other lambs. We argued for two minutes and I changed it. The second one, I drew a gigantic Groo eating a living cow.” Mark interrupted with, “It was gross.” Sergio countered with, “A dead cow would be more gruesome.” This gave Mark an opening to reply, “You tell PETA that.” Sergio laughed and said, “He suggested vegetables instead, and it was better. It made the story better.”
Speaking of gruesome food, Sergio turned to his left and said, “Stan and I have been everywhere. We’ve bunked in trains…eating strange food.” Stan gave a grimace as he added, “Sheep’s head was the strangest.”
Questions from the audience were then taken, with the first asking how long Sergio illustrated The Weekly World News. Stan said, “Bigfoot would read that paper,” and Mark chimed, “It was the real fake news.” Sergio said he worked for the paper for two and a half years and that it was “a lot fun.”
Stan was asked what inspired him to create Usagi Yojimbo. “Old movies. I did a drawing thirty-four years ago (that inspired me).” He also stated that Usagi appears in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon for a three part story. “It’s how I want Usagi to be written.”
Asked when he started at Mad Magazine, Sergio said 1962, and in that time he’s only missed one issue; he mailed in his contribution late, missing that deadline.
The animated adventures of Groo reared their head which lead Mark to say, “All the offers have been ‘Give us all the rights.’ We don’t want to do that. Animation is currently driven by merchandise and we don’t want to give that up. We’ve done outline scripts, but it’s never come close.” Sergio said, “Besides, if there was a Groo movie, we couldn’t talk about it!” This gave the audience a good laugh.
We time close to ending, each panelist said where they could be found during the convention, with Mark speaking at several panels and Sergio and Stan at their respective booths. Sergio ended the panel by saying in mock distress, “Stan’s booth is bigger than mine!”
This panel was an extremely enjoyable experience, with Mark, Sergio, and Stan showing that their humor and warmth isn’t just found on the pages of their books.