Even the most casual pop culture fan knows Krypton’s favorite son, Superman; also well known as the “Man of Steel.” But are you familiar with Clark Kent’s literary forefather, the “Man of Bronze?” If not, then you won’t want to miss the upcoming celebration of America’s “original superhero,” Doc Savage, at Doc Con 18.
Dr. Clark (Doc) Savage, Jr. was raised by his father to be the perfect human being: strong, agile, handsome and ultra-intelligent. He’s one of the primary pulp adventure characters that inspired a young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create their own version of a super-man.
Doc and his crew of accredited scientists and engineers, affectionately called the “Fabulous Five,” have influenced the inception of countless heroes, from Superman and Batman to the Fantastic Four. They’ve been around since 1933, when Lester Dent (writing as Kenneth Robeson) penned his first Doc Savage story, “The Man of Bronze,” and American pop culture has never been the same.
Doc Savage has been such a strong influence on the adventure, superhero and sci-fi genre that he single-handedly rates his own convention; in fact, one that has been happening in the Valley since 1998 and that is holding its 18th show this October 9 – 11.
This year’s Doc Con will also be celebrating the 40th anniversary the 1975 ‘Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze’ film; and its renowned star, Ron Ely (who also played Tarzan on television from 1966 – 1968), will be the event’s special guest.
Additional guests and happenings at Doc Con 18 include: Foreign Comic Expert, N. Scott Robinson; live portrait painting of Ron Ely by artist, Steve Rude; Doc Savage cover artist, Bob Larkin; Sanctum Books publisher and pulp fiction historian, Anthony Tollin; a screening of the “non-camp” version of the film, Doc Savage:The Man of Bronze; multiple Doc themed prize raffles, and a live radio play production of the popular Doc story, The Werewolf’s Brand.
We caught up to one of the Doc Con event’s original organizers, author and Doc aficionado, Jay Ryan, and asked him a few questions about the upcoming show:
How and when did you first become a Doc Savage fan?
I first discovered Doc Savage in the student bookstore at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, during a two week summer class when I was twelve. In 1972, books were sold on a spinning metal rack. It was on one of those racks, eye level, that I first saw one the most incredible book covers I had ever seen. The book was “The Fantastic Island,” which was a great book title in itself, but the cover featured a dynamic figure in a torn shirt with threatening creatures at his feet.
But there were two things that really hooked me after buying the book for 65 cents. The story was really about the friendships of the lead characters. Their conversations, bantering and loyalty to one another was something I hadn’t come across before. The second thing was that the book was number fourteen which told me that there were at least thirteen more! It would be six years more before I learned that there were 181 stories in all, written and published long before I was born.
I think many Arizona Doc Savage fans will be surprised to learn that there has been a Doc convention happening right in our backyard for the past seventeen years. How did this begin and how has the event grown over the years?
In 1996, I attended Pulpcon in Ohio with a book I had written titled The Collector’s Handbook of Bronze. It detailed all of the items ever created that included any aspect of Doc Savage including those items produced in foreign countries. The book seemed to be a hit at Pulpcon and the attendees there quickly learned who I was.
The following year, a fellow Arizonian attended Pulpcon and people kept asking him if he knew Jay Ryan. Upon his return to Phoenix, Rob Smalley contacted me and soon after we got together and talked Doc Savage. Both of us had very few friends who knew of or had read Doc Savage stories so the idea of creating Doc Con and finding others who shared our interest seemed like a great idea.
By 1998, Doc Con 1 was created and has steadily grown since, but it has been the last four years that have seen the most growth. Doc Cons have been tried in other states and some of us Arizona organizers have attended – the most famous being in La Plata, Missouri, where we visited the home of Lester Dent, the primary writer of most Doc Savage stories.
But Arizona remains the home of Doc Con and with our great weather it has become the primary focal point of fans to meet other Fans of Bronze, create new friendships and discuss anything new in the Doc Savage world.
This year’s con celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1975 Doc Savage movie, and you are hosting its star, the pop culture icon, Ron Ely. What are your thoughts on the film and its beloved campy reputation?
One goal of Doc Con each year is to highlight some achievement concerning Doc Savage. We have also always focused on learning more about the character and having speakers who educate the group or who were actively involved in some aspect of Doc Savage.
Ron Ely’s contribution to the Doc Savage world is obvious and was appreciated by most of us when we first saw the film. His performance has always been respected, however other choices made when producing the film were far more suspect.
With that said, this film is the only one Doc Savage fans have, so we tend to focus on it despite its flaws. Doc Con has always wanted Ron Ely to participate and 2015 was the ideal time for both Mr. Ely and fans alike to celebrate the movie’s accomplishments.
Ron Ely has informed me that he has a copy of the newest version of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze in his possession and will be bringing it to Doc Con where we will view this Non-Camp version Saturday evening. Titled “Honored,” this modified version will hopefully clean up some of the mess that [Producer/Screenwriter] George Pal created. Either way, watching the film with the Man of Bronze himself will be a treat!
What does Doc-Con have to offer for pop culture fans not familiar with Doc Savage and his heroic legacy?
The most praised feature of Doc Con is the comradery that we as fans naturally extend to all new attendees, but the common denominator is still the enjoyment we felt when reading the Doc Savage stories. We would happily include and help educate anyone but some understanding of the character would be beneficial.
As for pop culture fans, who cannot have some knowledge of Doc’s impact of characters such as Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four and any story that has bantering assistants for some comedy relief? So much of pop culture owes something to Doc Savage, since he originated in 1933 shortly before comic books and his gadgets and tropes have been borrowed by most subsequent writers even if they don’t know it.
Why do you think it is that pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Shadow and John Carter have been so dismissed in modern pop culture? How is Doc Con helping to resolve this injustice?
They are the root characters of all the superheroes. Unfortunately, they were created before there was such a thing and remained human. Doc Savage in particular was developed to be the motivation during the depression and subsequent war for boys and men to try to develop their bodies and mind. To try to be better than the average man and become a super-man. Exercises, mind sharpening techniques were always a part of each story and a secondary feature/department of the early magazines.
While John Carter could jump and was strong, he was still an ordinary man on earth. Comic books raided these ideas and gave their heroes super strengths that only their characters could possess. The more human Shadow, John Carter and Doc weren’t mutated; they were just average men who made themselves better through circumstances or hard work.
By focusing on these original characters, Doc Con explores and educates those fans that were not fortunate enough to have discovered that human ingenuity and honor are just as valuable an asset during adversity as strengths bestowed supernaturally.
What are you most excited about for this year’s convention?
Obviously, the participation of Ron Ely in our event is a coup that no other convention can boast. He has attended countless conventions and told many of the same stories, but dinners, socializing and just hanging out with the attendees will be something of a first. His two most famous roles are Tarzan and Doc Savage.
As time has gone on Mr. Ely has come to except the Doc Savage fans’ cult-like embracing of his film portrayal of Doc. Fans of Bronze have shown their respect for Mr. Ely for forty years now and this is his opportunity to join them and reciprocate their enthusiasm. Where better than at Doc Con 18?
But it must be remembered that Doc Con is still about getting together with other fans. Many fans read their Doc Savage books and never really interacted with other fans. It became a solitary fandom isolated by distance. But with the advent of social media and the rallying cry of Doc Con, those fans have found each other and enjoy a weekend of talking about the subtleties that make the stories great.
This year’s true accomplishment will come from fans from around the country taking the time to journey to Phoenix to spend time with one another. At one time, we were just names in emails but after eighteen years we are now faces and friends.