Last year, I ran a series called “Super ‘70s and ‘80s”; it comprised original interviews with 100 “lost” stars of superhero/cartoon entertainment of the 1970s and 1980s.
One of my fervent hopes was that this series would lead to some of the 100 being invited to comic book conventions as paid guests to meet fans, in many cases for the first time. (Remember, they were “lost.”)
So far, it’s happened twice to my knowledge. The first time: I helped Michael Bell (Zan the Wonder Twin) get booked at an Ohio convention (though he was one of the few on my list who had already done cons and was still active in the business).
The second time was especially sweet because it was Buster Jones, who portrayed Black Vulcan on Super Friends, as well as beloved characters on other shows. In Buster’s interview, he openly discussed how things had been tough. He has a pension but after Hanna and Barbera died (2001 and 2006, respectively), he had not gotten any voice work. From his mother he inherited the house in Tennessee that he was born in, and he is holding onto it in case he ever needs a place to live. (He’s currently in Los Angeles.)
After reading the interview, Peter Sinclair, one of the organizers of a Transformers convention called BotCon, contacted me for Buster’s contact information. I asked if Buster would be paid and Peter said yes. So with Buster’s permission, I put the two in touch.
Buster checked with an agent to see if a paid con appearance would be a union violation, and was told no. So in April, BotCon flew Black Vulcan to Dallas for three all-expenses-paid days of baptism by fandom.
It was the first pop culture convention Buster signed at.
But it was not the first he attended. That was one in San Diego mere weeks before Dallas; he went as an observer and did not tell anyone there who he was.
He almost didn’t make to Texas. For several days prior to BotCon, Dallas was vexed by tornadoes (six of them). Once there, Buster saw no signs of damage.
And he’d not been in Dallas since 1967 when he attended college (and experienced racism) there. He said there were streets he as a black man was not allowed to go down.
BotCon was crowded and Buster’s signings lasted three hours a day. He signed the con programs. I wish I could’ve seen it. Buster found the experience fun but exhausting. I asked if he remembered any of his castmates and he said he was excited in particular to see old friend Dan Gilvezan.
A highlight: the cast members who were there did a live reading of a Transformers cartoon script written specially for the convention.
I asked about Buster’s stammer. He said it would go away when he was doing one of two things: drinking (which he no longer does) and voice acting. As for the latter, he thinks it has to do with the fact that he’s reading rather than speaking extemporaneously.
“Fans dug meeting him,” Sinclair said. “He seemed to dig it all.” Buster confirmed that. Sinclair added “He dressed very nicely the whole weekend!”
I realize this is only one convention, one paycheck. But I remain hopeful that Buster, among others, will receive more convention invitations, and I will keep trying to bring that about any chance I get.
Your help would also be appreciated. Buster did so many shows and has more fans than he realized. Booking him with other performers from Super Friends or one of his other shows would make him even more of a draw.
Please share any suggestions in the comments. Do you know a con that pays for voice actors to appear?