On Saturday, March 17, 2010, Carl Macek died of a heart attack. Most people know and remember him as the man that brought the US anime through the creation of Robotech. But to me, he will always be the co-owner of a small comic shop in Orange, California called 21st Century Comics. I think I may have met him once, but I almost never spoke to him. I was far too shy.
It was in the early 80’s, about my freshman year in high school. My older brother came home with this video tape that he’d bought. It was in one of those black cases like video rental stores used for their VHS tapes, with what I think was a golden rod-colored xerox for a cover. It was Macross, Carl Macek and Harmony Gold’s first attempt at bringing Macross over to the US. That opening that is ridiculed in Bad English dubs that starts “Soldiers of Future from deep space…”? Yeah, that where it came from. My brother had bought it at Macek’s comic shop.
It was a small shop at that time, on the north end of Orange Circle, I believe. The Orange Circle is a two way street going in and out of the circle, so there was no parking on the street. It was in the back, and that where we always entered the shop from. I went there a few times with my brother. I was a casual comic collector, but loved to look at all the other merchandise the store would have. My brother would go to talk with his friends and Macek. Anime was almost always the topic. C/FO was active at that time, and Southern California had at least 3 chapters, one of which was in Orange. It was from these fans that Macek learned around anime and learned to love it. My husband Brian was among the fans that helped turn him on to anime.
For all the hate that people pile on Macek, I think he was a real fan of the medium. I’m sure the Southern California contingent was among his harshest critics, but that probably more because they new him before the Robotech phenomenon started. I recall one story I was told about Macek speaking at a Creation Convention, with several of the fans who knew him in the back making shoveling motions as he spoke. But there was never any animosity between anyone. It was more like good-natured ribbing.
By the time I was getting involved with the anime fandom, Robotech was already a big success, and Macek was moving on to bigger and better things. 21 Century Comics reaped a bit of the benefits, as they moved from their small store front to a much larger one, still on the Circle, with 2 stories. There was still plenty of anime merchandise. It was in that store that I first saw a copy of Fred Schodt’s Manga! Manga! book. It sat on the shelf for such a long time… But Macek wasn’t around as much. One could still get news about what he was doing through the store’s co-owner Barry Short. Macek eventually sold his half of the store to Barry, and moved on to Streamline Pictures. But I don’t think he ever forgot his fan roots. SDCC, 1990 I think it was, the first year I went with my future husband, I remember running to the small movie theater near the Hotel San Diego, where the new dub of the Lensman Movie was being shown. The reason I was rushing was because Brian had been asked to be at the premiere by Macek, and I was going to meet them. I think that really says something that Macek wanted some of the people that got him into the fandom to be at one of his premieres.
I know none of these are really first hand stories, and I didn’t really know the man, but through all the stories I heard and just watching, I think Macek really loved anime, and was trying to bring it to the US not just for the fans, but for everyone to enjoy. He truly was a pioneer, clearing the way for many of the companies to come after. Just look at the movies he licensed through Streamline; Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Akira, even Lensmen. These weren’t just good movies, they were films shown at the C/FO and loved by the fans. Loved by him.
He may have been a controversial figure, but that was never what he was trying to do. He just wanted to bring over good shows for the fans. Fans should try to remember more of the man than what he did or didn’t do.