Bill Rotsler’s Birthday

Today is the late William Rotsler’s birthday. It was often a feature at WESTERCONs, falling, as it did, on July 3.

Portrait of the Artist as an undissolute Man
by Bill Rotsler, drawn on July 3, 1976

I met Bill Rotsler at WESTERCON 29 on his birthday, that interim Bicentennial. (see “The Bison Tenniel — An Origin Story“) between July 2 (actual independence day, when Virginia’s resolution on “independency” was adopted by the Second Continental Congress) and July 4, when the “Declaration” was adopted by that same body.

I actually met him at his birthday party, which Russell Bates (who died earlier this year, alas) crashed us into.

And there was where I met Theodore Sturgeon, who took a look at me and said (verbatim), “If you’re going to be a writer, you have to get inside the skin of your characters. The Indians [i.e. Native Americans) had a saying that you didn’t truly know a man until you walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Russell noted that I hadn’t said a WORD about being or becoming a writer.

You can still subscribe to LOCUS, which
published my first cover story in 1978.

That tale continued until Sturgeon’s death in 1985 and beyond. But that’s a different story.

Here’s what I wrote in “The Bison Tenniel“:

A few months later, taking Bill Rotsler’s name in vain, I tricked my way into ADAM Magazine, and began a literary association that would continue for the next decade. Later, Rotsler was sure that he’d recommended me, but in fact, I lied. I said that he’d mentioned it at a science fiction convention, and Jared Rutter, the editor, assumed it to be true.

But that only got me in the door. I had to be able to write, and it turned out that I could, and I did. I worked with Rotsler for a long time after that. I was even in one of his soft porn movies, with Kitten Natividad on my arm. (I was clothed. She was not.)

So in a writerly way, it’s sort of MY birthday too.

I had a unique relationship with Bill, who had founded ADAM FILM WORLD, which I later became an editor of. Bill lived a life in Science Fiction (LASFS*, etc. et al) winning four fan art Hugos, and nominated for a Nebula for his “Patron of the Arts” novella. He did a lot of novelizations, including several Star Trek novels (he is reputed to have given Uhura her first name in one of them), several early Marvel novelizations, including Iron Man and Dr. Strange, and several new “Tom Swift” novels. (See his bibliography.) I used to see Bill at LASFS meetings.

(* Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Ray Bradbury being the most well-known member, but Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were mainstays at the weekly meetings.)

But I also knew him at Knight Publications (Adam, Knight, Adam Film World, the short-lived Vertex, Players, etc.) And as a founding member of the X-Rated Critics Organization (the XRCO, pronounced ‘zerko’) Bill designed the awards, a wooden “heart” with burned on logo. (Later with a brass plate attached instead):

Photo credit Gambo192, via Wikipedia

Bill died in 1997, and today would have been his 92nd birthday.

A button (complete with safety pin taped on back) that Bill Rotsler
made for my wife, Jayne — when she was living with someone else.

Bill’s generosity was legendary, giving away his drawing at conventions, to fanzines, etc.

But I wanted to tie this to the last column’s sort-of-Harlan-Ellison obit,  because Rotsler was actually responsible for two of Harlan’s best-known quotes.

From a 2008 Ellison interview with the “AV Club”:

This is decades ago, a friend of mine, William Rotsler, one of the great wits of our time, and a wonderful writer and an artist and a sculptor and a moviemaker. He was just a Renaissance guy and a terrific guy. In fact, it was Bill who came up with the title “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream.” He did a little drawing, and there was a little creature, looked like a rag doll, that had no mouth on it, just stitches, that said, “I have no mouth, and I must scream.” And I thought, “Wow, what a great title for a story.” And I asked Bill if I could use it, and he said, “Yeah,” and there it was. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody that.

And this, talking about a convention where Harlan came downstairs only to be confronted by a woman who gave Ellison whatfor in the angriest manner possible:

I turned around with my date, we walked back the elevator, and I left. But as I was leaving, I heard behind me, this woman say, “Why didn’t he say anything? Why didn’t he say anything? What’s the matter with him? Why didn’t he say anything?” And I heard Bill Rotsler—and Bill vouched for this later—Bill said, “When you’re the fastest gun in town, you don’t draw against plowboys.”

David Gerrold likes to attribute this saying to Harlan, but, in fact, it comes to us from the late and much-missed Bill Rotsler. I always wondered about it, since it always seemed entirely outside the provenance of Ellison’s Painesville, Ohio upbringing and his early books about New York “youth gangs.” Now it makes sense.

“Some people call me the space cowboy”?

Happy Birthday, Bill, wherever or whenever you are.


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