By Ken Stone and Chris Stone
Bellman created a strip of his own — “Let’s Play Detective.” He worked for Marvel Comics (and its predecessor Timely Comics) for 20 years. He drew for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and took award-winning photos — including one that took second in a worldwide contest.
But Saturday at the 7th annual San Diego Comic Fest, when asked what he was most proud of, he replied: “What I’m doing now, for the people.”
After an hour talk at the Comic-Con-the-way-it-used-to-be event, Bellman explained.
“I make them smile. I make them laugh,” he said in a Four Points by Sheraton exhibit hall. “When you come to one of my lectures, you will laugh. The Wall Street Journal gave me an article on my humor. And what else can I say?”
At “94 and half,” Bellman is still telling stories through sketches — and conversations.
About how he got his first job at age 18: Answering an ad in The New York Times on Columbus Day.
“They wanted a background artist for Captain America,” he recalls. “I said to my dad: ‘I’ll go tomorrow’ (after the holiday). He says: ‘You go today.’ And I went there and what can I tell you? I went to 34th Street and McGraw-Hill and I got the job right away.”
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About first seeing Stan Lee: “I was working there about two weeks and saw this young little man walking behind his uncle, Robbie Solomon. … I said: ‘Who’s that guy?’ ‘Oh, that’s Stan. That’s Stan Lee. He used to be office boy here.’ And they were breaking him in.”
About his assignments: “I worked on anything Stan Lee threw at me — romance stories, Western stories, war stories. I hated to do horses. Their feet were hard to do. I used to put [in] a lot of dust. They called that ‘faking.'”
About sketching: It “puts me in another world. I sit down and draw, and all the world’s ills and kids problems just disappear.”
About his work ethic: “I never feel I did well enough for everybody, but I can always do better and better. And I’m glad I got that feeling.”
About a San Diego Comic-Con moment: “I’m on stage and everyone’s cheering me. I look around for Stan Lee, and I can’t find him. They’re cheering me!”
(At that appearance, he held up his middle finger to show a Captain America shield drawn on a fingernail by his wife’s manicurist. “And the young people [said]: Oh, he’s giving them the finger.’ … I’m not that kind of person.”)
But Bellman also told about grief — losing his son Gary last July at age 69 but later sensing a visit from him.
“I’m sitting in my studio one night, and my wife is in the bedroom, and I talk to Gary all the time, and I felt something touch my shoulder,” he says. “It could have been my imagination. But I felt someone touch my shoulder. I just wanted to know if he was in a good place. I said: ‘God, forgive him for his sins. He knows not what he did.’ What can I say?”
A photographer chatting with Bellman invited him to return to signing his drawings (one for $20, two for $35 — but autographs for free).
“You’ve got to take care of your customers,” the photographer says.
“They’re not customers,” he reacts. “They’re friends. I need a blue pen.”
This is his life now. Drawing (sometimes on commission) and attending comic conventions — including 15 scheduled this year alone. He calls it “giving back.”
“I’m trying to bring this world together,” he says. “I’ve never seen so much hate in my life. I’m from the East Coast. I know where angels fear to tread.”
As a child, Bellman says, he loved to draw: “It’s something in you. I always wanted to tell a story in pictures.”
But he never knew about comic books until later.
“I remember Dick Tracy when it started” in the 1930s, he says of the newspaper strip. “I go all the way back (to) Steve the Tramp Jr. It motivated me to want to draw.”
Now he looks back in wonder. What if he hadn’t listened to his father?
“What would I be doing today? … I never thought I’d reach 94. What can I say?”
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away …
“The future looks bright,” proclaimed astrophysicist Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil.
She was referring to a succession of telescopes on the horizon that will open people’s eyes to the secrets of the universe.
The postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona (and a 2018 TED Fellow) referred to the James Webb Space Telescope, (launching in 2021); the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (2022); the Giant Magellan Telescope (2025 and 10 times stronger than the Hubble Space Telescope); the European Extremely Large Telescope (also in 2025 and 16 times sharper than Hubble); and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
Mutlu-Pakdil said colleagues believe life exists on other planets — and the new telescopes will provide the evidence.
“We really don’t know anything,” she said, speaking to Times of San Diego after her presentation. “We still have a lot to learn. We study these objects and think that we have common knowledge that works very well, but then there is the sky and it really challenges you and your models and it pushes you to discover more, explore more.
“It really encourages me to study deeper in space.”
Mutlu-Pakdil, whose research led to discovery of an extremely rare double ring elliptical galaxy, spoke at the fest about her research, dark matter, black holes and dwarf galaxies.
“We will have an amazing view. … We will have many discoveries,” said Mutlu-Pakdil, whose own studies led to finding the galaxy PGC 1000714. It bears her name — Burçin’s Galaxy.
Through use of computer programs and a variety of wave lengths, she discovered that the galaxy had two significant events that created the reddish inner ring she estimates is 5.5 billion years old and the younger outer ring about 113 million years old.
Despite what she learned through her research, “We have more questions than we have answers,” she told a packed convention room.
The Turkish-born scientist described observing the galaxy’s properties while wearing an oxygen mask at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea observatory at more than 13,000 feet.
She has a passion for studying dwarf galaxies, which contain mostly dark matter and are the building blocks of larger galaxies.
Studying dwarf galaxies will help our understanding of galaxy evolution in general and the evolution of the universe, Mutlu-Pakdil said.
She and her fellow astrophysicist are studying how the Milky Way is pulling stars from nearby dwarf galaxies.
Only 15 years ago, astronomers knew of only a dozen dwarf galaxies in the vicinity of the Milky Way. Now 60 have been identified. And while galaxies are made of stars, dark matter and black holes, much is needed to be learned about dark matter.
“Ninety-five percent of the universe is dark matter,” Mutlu-Pakdil said. “If we can understand the nature of dark matter, it will be amazing… We really don’t know what is in this universe. If we can understand the nature of dark matter, this will be amazing.”
Such an understanding will enlighten humanity to “where we are coming from and how the universe came to be the way it is now,” she said.”
Comic fest continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 for the general public and $12.50 for students, and active military and spouses. Children 12 and younger are free. Parking is free.
San Diego Comic Fest founder Mike Towry said: “We just want people to have a great memorable time, that everybody … enjoys talking to each other and sharing ideas and meeting new people and just having a great time sharing this thing that we all love.”
Said Hannah Deiter, one of an expected 2,000 fest-goers: “It’s fantastic being able to talk to artists and having time to interact with them.”
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