The Wizard Door
Adventures in Brainstorming with Alex Nino and Carmine Infantino
Like my memories, this story is a tangled blend of reality and fiction. For my family, this story might be hard to read. Here’s something easier if you’re not ready to remember.
October 13, 1983. Danbury, Connecticut — somewhere in the inbetween.
“Come on dad!”
“Wooah, William. I think your mother would want us to uh, I don’t know. Go back maybe?” There was a long pause where my dad’s wide eyes fixed on the blue door at the end of the hallway.
“What do you mean? Come on. This is it, dad! This is the Wizard Door!”
All of a sudden, Dad stumbled and his hand went to his chest. His knees hit the cobbled ground first and made a loud crack. I turned and looked, trying to run toward my fallen father.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” My eight-year-old mind didn’t know whether this was all part of the game or not.
My eight-year-old mind never knew those differences.
My dad clutched the corner of the stone wall, trying to get back up. Looking back now, I think he was reaching for the tiny opening of light. He wanted to hook his fingers in and then crawl back into the dusty familiarity of the mundane world.
Games were one thing, but finding the actual Wizard Door was another thing entirely. His trembling fingers couldn’t reach the opening and after what seemed like infinite spinning moments, he slid back down to the ground.
Yowls and croons crawled from his throat like he was a downed banshee bleeding into the earth.
It wasn’t until later, when the battlefields beyond the magical doorways showed its scenes of death and howling despair, that I’d hear a croon of desperate pain like that. But that wasn’t until decades later after Tak and I came into our full abilities.
But in that moment for some reason, my mind kept reaching back to a few weeks earlier when something even bigger than the Wizard Door made an unwelcome appearance in our lives.
It started with a finger sliding through the opening in the corner of the studio ceiling. After that was a blur. Makes sense now that we know it was a nothingness being. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
I could feel my mind already slipping back to 2019. So, I had to hold fast.
But right then, in that moment of crooning despair, even as my dad gasped desperately for air in the hallway on the other side of the veil, my mind kept going back to the night we (or I) first learned of the possible existence of a so-called Wizard Door, way back in the summer of 1982.
That’s the problem with memories twisted in fiction. I never knew how many times the story was edited before it was finally narrated back to me by my dad, who was a master storyteller of supernatural terror and suspense.
But let me back up. When Dad and I finally found The Wizard Door, it was October 1983 and we still had our forest hideaway in Danbury, Connecticut.
But it was the summer before that another writer discovered the location of the door. I’m not sure which writer. It could have been any number of them. Nick Cutti, Jim Stenstrun, Jim Janes, Carmine Infantino…
Yeah, that was it. It all started the night we went to The Great Wall with Carmine Infantiono (the restaurant in Reseda, CA, not the wall in the Far East).
In our old brown Chevy Malibu, on the way to the restaurant, my dad recounted his last few late nights spent flying to a faraway star where he met the council of wise originators and world builders deep in the far reaches of space. He had the powerful, glowing ring to prove it and he waved it around like it was some kind of magical galactic bling granting him access to the most hard to find scenes in Brooklyn and The Bronx.
With the backward eye of an adult, I suspect the truth was closer to late night cruises in The Bronx rather than forays into space.
I’d, of course, been busy trying to memorize my twelves on the multiplication table or grappling with long division.
When he wasn’t patrolling the galaxy or fighting monsters in the streets of The Bronx, my dad and I worked nights in his studio nestled in the hobbit-like hollows of our Connecticut hideaway.
He wrote and penciled several comic book pages. I inked several of the pages while my dad and I flung tales back and forth at each other like dueling freestyle lyrics of sci-fi and fantasy madness.
Sidenote: Looking back now, it was no wonder that my best friend just a few years later was the boy who eventually formed Styles of Beyond and spun mad freestyle rhymes in his house down the street from ours with Bilal and Divine Styler. I didn’t realize then that those men fought monsters in The Shitty¹ in my dad’s crew and they were well versed in stories involving bloody knuckles and spent shell casings. But that’s a story for later.
This night was still a muggy evening in late summer of ’82. The very night one of our brainstorming sessions lead to the “creation” of the most powerful magical being ever to pass through the fictional opening, in the back corner of my dad’s studio.
If memory serves correctly, we were working on the first issue of The Comet. Alex Nino was called on my dad’s rotary phone so he could help draw the book. I’m pretty sure Alex reworked most of my stinky inklings anyway. My name was probably only in the book in spirit of the collaboration that unfortunately occurred that night. Also, my name in the book when I was only eight might be part of the contract with the nothingness creature that slithered through the ceiling corner through the cobwebs and into our world.
Later, after my dad made the call, Alex stumbled up the porch like a rollicking minstrel with a bottle of happy juice for adults. As always, the jovial artist brought along his full-faced grin, which looked like something close to the true embodiment of rock and roll comic book artistry.
Back then, I didn’t know I stood in the presence of artistic greatness. Guys like Carmine Infantino went out to dinner with us all the time, so it was no big deal when he met my dad, Alex, and me at the restaurant.
I’ve come to learn that my dad trusted few older men. Carmine Infantino, the creator of Silver Age Flash, might have been the only older man he ever let his guard down around.
I didn’t know who Carmine was back then as I munched on my tasty sweet and sour chicken. I did know that the young waiter just shook his hand and got his autograph. The adults at the table were talking about The Superman movie with Christopher Reeves and Marlon Brando. Apparently Carmine was heavily involved with that project, and he was flattered and honored that the young waiter even knew who he was.
I was used to casually finding out I sat in the presence of greatness. Other men like Jim Henson frequented the offices down the hall from my dad’s desk only a couple years later, when we had to flee from our forest hideaway after we were unable to fulfill our promise to the nothingness being that hung like old cobwebs in the back corner of the studio near the opening into the fictional mirror world.
Like I said, cats like Jim Stenstrum and Nick Cutti were regular fixtures around our house. Once, sometime around 1985, my dad brought me upstairs at his work and introduced me to “the man who created Captain America”. I was ten, and when I shook the hand of the man in the office with the amazingly real-looking Cap shield resting in the corner, I thought it was the actual man who administered the super soldier serum to Steve Rogers to create Captain America, not the artist or writer who created the fictional character.
To this day, I don’t know who that man was. maybe Stan Lee? Whoever he was, he had a big upstairs office that hung above everyone else’s at the Marvel Productions office on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys, CA. So my guess is that it was Stan Lee. (I’m not worthy)
Don’t even get me started about all the doors into the fictional world that were installed in that building. I once accidentally walked through a door marked with merely the word Takashi and found myself in a Game of Death game of, well basically death.
All I remember now of the night in question is Alex Nino’s cackling laughter as the being squirmed through the opening in the back corner of my dad’s studio. The brainstorming session had slid over to that new location, although looking back at it now, I was really confused.
I always thought the dinner with Carmine and Alex Nino was the same night, but that’s two different coasts. We probably didn’t start a dinner in Van Nuys, CA and then end up in Danbury, CT later that same night.
Of course, I do have lots of memories of the dark hallways nestled in the inbetween. Certainly probable-wizards like Carmine Infantino had access to the Underworld Railroad latticework of inter dimensional hallways, am I right?
So, in other words, who knows? These days, I never really know for sure anymore.
Only seconds before, shadows clung to the wall in the back of my dad’s studio like bats waiting to take flight.
The first thing to slide through was a finger.
The next thing I knew, all the adults in the room were clutching their heads and screaming like madmen. I felt normal, but for the bouncing sounds of screaming madmen throughout the room.
A face peered through the opening into the fictional mirror world. It was indecipherable at first but after a few minutes of intense focus, it began to look like a huge cartoon eye.
The next thing I heard was a chuckle and then rollicking laughter.
It was coming from somewhere behind the back wall of the studio. The laughter grew in volume until my heart thudded uncontrollably in my chest.
The sound of men screaming in pain and terror in the room behind me faded into the background as I pressed my face as close to the far corner of the ceiling as I could get it.
I just needed a few more inches of reach and I might be able to pull myself up into the fictional mirror world.
What was it the chuckling voice said?
“Shall we build a world?” — the maddening voice from behind the wall in my dad’s studio.
Sounded fun, I thought. Certainly better than staying in the room with a bunch of howling adults. So, I reached up and let the finger hook onto my pajamas and drag me up into its world.
Sometimes I wish I stayed with my mom and memorized the twelves on my times tables. But those are the types of choices you get when you live in the shadow of giants, a lesson I’d learn even more harshly later that year when I stayed a few nights at a hotel that lay in the actual shadow of giants.
Thank God for the funny wizard adventurer I met in my journeys the first time through the hole in the ceiling at the corner of my dad’s studio. He might be the only reason I ever found my way back to the house up the hill from the studio in 1980s Connecticut.
Up until he died in April of 2010, my dad never knew that the first time I ever came in contact with The Wizard Door was when I returned back to the mundane reality through the other side of it.
I thought it would be unfair. After all, he was a master storyteller and he loved his games.
I always knew he felt safer with his fictions and his games. A man who needs a funny wizard and a precocious boy to take care of him obviously has a deep-seated mistrust of humanity. Thank God for the helpers who understood that his attacks were raging panic attacks and not the manly heart attacks he professed them to be. I thought it was safest to keep my first trip through The Wizard Door to myself.
The secret knowledge of my first encounter would come in handy later in October 1988 when my dad saw the door for the first time and collapsed in a full-blown anxiety attack of the grandest scale.
A wailing croon sailed through the hallway. I hung back, terrified of my dad when he made those sounds.
There were only so many times I could relearn the terrifying lesson that I should hang back while my father’s screams died down.
It just gets so hard to decipher all of the noises. After a while, they sound like whispers because they’re indecipherable from all the false promises of real-life magic and adventure that he and I never went on in actual real life.
But forget about that aspect for now. For now, there was The Wizard Door. Can you hear that maddening chuckle beckoning us to step through the door?
© Bill DuBay Jr. ⚡️ 2019, all rights reserved.
The Shitty: My dad’s adoring name for New York City.