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Remembering Stu Shiffman

Well, it's a sad day when I use this userpic, which was drawn by Stu Shiffman, to head a memorial post about Stu. As most of my friends in science fiction fandom will have already heard, Stu died last week. He had suffered a massive stroke two years ago, but had made a far greater recovery than I ever expected before he fell and reinjured himself a couple of months ago. He never recovered from that fall.

I didn't know Stu well in a personal sense, but when he and Andi moved to Seattle in 1990 they became a part of the Vanguardian scene. He was a regular part of the fannish social life around here, at parties, conventions, and outings to Chinese restaurants -- always a friendly presence who was quick with a joke or an erudite pop culture reference. When Andy and carl and I started publishing Chunga, he was the first person we asked for a cover. (Look for the first issue at our page at eFanzines.) We also recruited him to write celluloid fantasias, in which he spun alternate world films, such as the Marx Brothers spoof on the Zorro story and the complicated cinematic history of Jack Williamson's Legion of Space, including the 1948 Technicolor movie with Lana Turner, Gene Kellly, Van Heflin, and Gig Young. (See issue #4 at the link above.) Stu's celluloid fantasias were in many ways the epitome of what we were trying to do in Chunga. They were full of knowledgeable and downright obscure references, but they were also whimsical and funny, not to mention well illustrated.

Stu's celluloid fantasias also led to one of my great faux pas as an editor. For issue #9 he submitted a piece about various cinematic versions of "The Call of Cthulhu," and I took on the task of editing it. I sent him my suggested revisions, and I'll never forget his barbed reply: "Don't change the words of H.P. Lovecraft." Stu had quoted from Lovecraft's story, and I thought he was making it up and suggested some changes. I guess that was an unintentional tribute to his skill at invention, since I was fooled. I tried to make it up to him by incorporating his fantasia version of a James Whale directed Cthulhu into my own review of Fritz Lang's (real) The Woman in the Moon. Andy edited Stu's work after that episode.

Stu and I shared an interest in old movies and old science fiction, although he knew more on both topics than I ever will. I came pretty late to old science fiction, but when he learned of my new enthusiasm we bonded over it. He showed me reference books he'd picked up and enthused about old stories I'd heard of but never read. When Geri Sullivan and I were putting together Science-Fiction Five-Yearly #12 and asked Rich Coad to write about an imaginary science fiction convention of (I think it was) 1911, Stu was the obvious person to illustrate it. (See Geri's beautiful tribute for some of Stu's artwork, including one of the illos for Rich's piece.)

I knew Stu mostly on a social and editorial level and don't have much in the way of personal anecdotes. I do remember once sitting outside the hotel at a Potlatch waiting for some people to show up for a dinner engagement. Stu and Andi were waiting for a taxi, and something had happened that really upset Andi. She was in tears, and Stu was right there by her side, comforting her in every way he knew how. It was so sweet, so loving, so human. It makes me remember, too, stopping by their basement apartment on some errand and sharing jokes and chatter with them as Andi watched the Olympics on TV and Stu puttered around their book-filled living room. I am filled with great sadness that Andi has lost a pillar of support, but I'm also glad that they got to get pledge their eternal love for each other in marriage before he died.

He was a sweetheart of a guy, and his popularity led to his winning TAFF in 1981. He was also a very talented artist who won the Fan Artist Hugo in 1990. He was smart and funny and always pleasant to be around. Reading all the stories people are telling about him in the wake of his death makes me feel that in some ways I know him better now than I did when he was alive. No doubt I'll learn more in the days and years ahead. He left that kind of lasting imprint on the world.

2009-08-15 Stu Shiffman
Stu on August 15, 2009 (Photo by Hal O'Brien)


Mike Glyer has written an excellent obituary at file770.com.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
surliminal
Dec. 3rd, 2014 11:14 pm (UTC)
Nice eulogy. I' didn't know Stu well either but I as there in 88 on TAFF when he and Andi were getting together and it was part of the magical realism soap opera of that whole trip. It remains a sort of connection to my own fictionalised life story. I'm sad.
holyoutlaw
Dec. 4th, 2014 12:00 am (UTC)
Very nice, thank you.
Andi Malala Shechter
Dec. 4th, 2014 07:04 am (UTC)
Randy, right now all I can say is "thank you" and ask for a copy of that wonderful photo. I've never seen it before and while I am not usually a photo-of-people person, any/all photos of Stu are welcome right now and oh, this one is just terrific.
Andi
randy_byers
Dec. 4th, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's a great photo. I'm having second thoughts about the attribution I gave it, so I removed it. (I'm now wondering whether it was Hal O'Brien's photo, not Steve Green's.) In any event, I'll send you the larger copy I've got when I get a chance. It's possible that whoever took the photo would have any even higher res one.
randy_byers
Dec. 4th, 2014 05:11 pm (UTC)
Hal has confirmed that he took the photo, so I've added the new attribution.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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