Richard Matheson, one of the key giants of this generation’s writers of the fantastic, has left us at age 87.
Richard Matheson should be a name as familiar to the public as Ray Bradbury. Matheson had a profound effect on my generation’s psyche, producing some of the most memorable tales of horror and fantasy that have ever been written, as stories for books and magazines as well as for television and movie screens.
At conventions, when I mention his name and get a blank look, I always say, “Oh, you may not realize it, but you know his work,” I explain. ” He wrote all the best Twilight Zone episodes for Rod Serling, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, the one with William Shatner and the gremlin on the wing of his airplane. He wrote Little Girl Lost, which got turned into Steven Spielberg‘s and Tobe Hooper‘s Poltergeist. Speaking of Spielberg, Richard wrote Steven’s first film as a director, Duel, which had Dennis Weaver being relentlessly pursued and tormented by a maddeningly mysterious someone in a huge truck. He wrote I Am Legend which, after three attempts, still hasn’t been properly translated to the screen. Richard is the author of the sci-fi classic, The Incredible Shrinking Man. He captured the romantic souls of audiences everywhere with Somewhere in Time (from his novel Bid Time Return) and What Dreams May Come. Matheson wrote Twilight Zone: The Movie. That great made-for-TV movie about a vampire loose in Las Vegas, (that spawned a TV series), The Night Stalker, was penned by Richard. He wrote that brilliant short story ‘Button, Button’ (which was unfortunately turned into an overpadded, flabby film version entitled The Box). Who can forget the Zuni fetish doll hellishly pursuing Karen Black all over her apartment in the TV anthology Trilogy of Terror? Roger Corman tapped Matheson to write his classic Edgar Allan Poe films. The Stranger Within, a gem of a thriller starring Barbara Eden, has become a cult favorite. And that’s the tip of this writer’s massive iceberg, my friend.”
At some early point during my recital I always catch the light of recognition in their eyes, for Richard Matheson has written stories that for so many people are their favorite stories in the world.
I feel incredibly lucky to not only have met Richard but to have gotten to know him and to have worked with him as well.
Our first collaboration was when in 1989 I was hired to design the decorations for the massive Scream Press tome Collected Stories. I thought I did a nice, decent job but I’d love to do it over. I feel I was just beginning to hit my creative stride with the decorations when the deadline arrived. I finished on time but I would have liked to have seen what would have resulted if I had been able to do about two dozen more spot illustrations.
I produced what I thought was one of my very best covers for the book — but Richard rejected it. He thought it was too psychedelic (it is sort of Grateful Dead-ish). That stung, as I had researched Richard’s life and incorporated many symbols of his life and career into the design of the cover. But C’est la vie, as the French say.
Around the year 2000 my friend Mick Garris invited me to a publication party being thrown in his honor by Gauntlet Press. I openly admired the care that went into the publications of Gauntlet Press and, out loud, said, “Why haven’t they ever asked me to illustrate one of their books?”
“You’d like to?” asked Gauntlet’s head, Barry Hoffman.
“Would you like to illustrate a children’s book written by Richard Matheson?”
“Are you kidding me? Richard Matheson has written a kid’s book?”
“Yes; it’s called Abu & The 7 Marvels.”
Illustrating Richard’s only children’s book was a total labor of love. To honor Richard I tried to surpass all that I had done in the past. First, I produced several elaborate and well-researched full color illustrations. I asked Barry to show them to Richard.
I got Matheson’s feedback pretty quickly.
“Richard’s concerned that they’re so serious. They’re not very funny, and it’s written as a very humorous book.”
I immediately produced nineteen very funny black and white illustrations to complement the color pieces. My goal exceeded what was asked of me; I wanted (and drew) an illustration for every chapter.
Richard was delighted. And, because Matheson was delighted, so was I.
It’s a gorgeous book, one that I am still very proud of to this day. Gauntlet Press’ production on the book is wonderful; the cover, with it’s hot foil gold embossing, looks like the sumptuous cover to an expensive box of chocolates.
We won a ton of awards with Abu & The 7 Marvels. Ray Bradbury (another Matheson fan) saw and immediately purchased the Frost Dragon illustration from me. Gauntlet and Matheson fans were delighted.
I loved doing signings with Richard because they enabled me to get to know the man better. And the more I knew about Richard, the more I loved and respected him.
“I’ve had a lot of offers to turn Abu into a movie,” Richard confided in me at one of our signings.”
“That’s great! How’s that going?”
“I tell them that I’ll option it for the screen under one condition…”
“…that William Stout has to be the movie’s designer.”
“RICHARD! Don’t do that! Take the dough! Don’t limit yourself!”
“No. You did such a beautiful job on the book; the designer has to be you.”
I just shook my head…but my admiration for Richard shot up several more levels.
Richard Matheson was a mensch, one of the finest, most thoughtful human beings I ever met.
I was hoping you would live forever, Richard. And, actually, you will — through the magic you put down on all those thousands of pages, through your hundreds of stories that have and will continue to touch the hearts and souls and chill the spines of current generations and generations to come.
I’ve got a couple of great reviews to share. These guys really understood my goals with the book.
This first review is by Randy Fox, who interviewed me this last weekend in Louisville (where I was on their local NBC morning news show) at VinylFest:
This next review is from this morning’s Washington Post:
I am bound and determined to do what it takes to make this book a bestseller.
This is part of a note that Richard Foos, the president and founder of Shout! Factory (and co-founder of Rhino Records) sent to me regarding Legends of the Blues:
“I’ve been in deep blues research for years and have read at least 15 books on it, yet somehow yours in a concise way brings it all together more than any history of the blues ever could. By reading your book cover to cover you understand the entire history.
I’m meeting Dion today, as we’re talking about an album project. I’m going to give him my copy and then buy a bunch to give to record collector friends as I see them.”
I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying the response to my book has been for me. Thanks, everyone!
I hope to see all my music fans at VinylFest in Louisville this Saturday and Sunday. If you missed out on picking up a copy of Legends of the Blues from me at WonderFest (I sold out the first day), I’ll have ’em with me again at VinylFest. If you want to pick up a signed copy — or copies — for Father’s Day or other occasions (birthdays), I won’t stop you from buying several…!
See “Appearances” on this page for details (for Where-What-When, etc.).
I’ll be giving a PowerPoint presentation on Sunday about the making of the book. Many surprises!
At 7:30 PM tonight I’ll be doing my first Legends of the Blues lecture. I’ll be at Skylight Books (see Appearances on this site for address details).
If you’re stuck for what to get your dad for the upcoming Father’s Day, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Legends of the Blues. Don’t forget — a free CD of blues music personally selected and sequenced by Yours Truly comes with each copy of the book.
This morning I’ll be doing a special pop-up book signing in promotion of Legends of the Blues at the California African American Museum‘s Target Sunday celebration. I’ll be there from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I’ll be selling and signing copies and will be happy to answer any questions you might have about the book. They’re only $20 each — and each book includes a free CD of the blues!
The African American Museum is at Exposition Park, next to the Natural History Museum. While you’re there, why not walk across the street to USC’s Fischer Museum of Art and catch the public opening of the California Art Club’s Gold Medal Exhibition. It’s an incredible show! I escorted former California governor (and my early movie career pal) Arnold Schwarzenegger through the show yesterday. I’ve got a portrait of Captain Hook in the exhibition, the first of ten pieces I am creating for a Peter Pan print portfolio.
I’m sure today’s events will be a lot of fun. And, hey! — if you don’t like the blues or contemporary traditional California art, there’s always the dinosaurs!