Thursday, October 31, 2019

Best! Weekend! Ever! (or, "Tales of TerrifiCon 2019, Part Five-and-Final") ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

WARNING! This is an extremely long post. I'm known for being excessively wordy when I write, and less so when I talk. But this time? Pack a lunch. And an overnight bag.

Okay, then, here we go! If you're a comic book fan, you're almost certain to enjoy all the artwork I'll be throwing at you in this post. If you're not a comic book follower, I still think – hope? – there will be enough here to catch your eye and make you stay all the way to my last word.

And once again, I'm going to point out to those of you who are comic book enthusiasts that most of my blog's regular readers are not comic fans, so if you encounter a fact here and there that makes you say “Everybody knows that,” well... it ain't necessarily so on this blog.

As mentioned in Part Four, my time at TerrifiCon 2019 was an early birthday present for Mrs. Lynch's little November baby. And the best part of said present was that a true artistic legend, Jim Steranko, was a guest of the convention... and I got to have dinner with the man!

Those of you who don't follow comic books may be thinking “Oh, how nice, David got to spend some time with one of those people who draws funnybooks.” Well, dining and talking with Steranko as opposed to someone else who just happens to be in the same business is almost like the difference between sitting with your brother-in-law who plays bass for a local rock band, or spending time instead with Elvis Presley. And, truth be told, that's not a bad comparison. In terms of his artistic innovations, his personal charisma, and his influence on the next generation of comic creators, Steranko – people often leave out the “Jim” part of his name, because there's only one Steranko – really is a rock star.

Or a rock god. Small G. Keep it understated.

Granted, Steranko wasn't the only innovative artist in comics during the late 1960s. I hear a couple of voices in the back row asking “What about Neal Adams over at DC?” Adams and Steranko were familiar with each others' work, of course. In fact Neal Adams worked a tribute to Steranko into one of his panels for the “Deadman” feature in Strange Adventures! (In case you can't read the words in the mist, they say “Hey! A Jim Steranko effect!”)

Anyway, I'd learned to read in 1960 or so, and was reading practically all the Marvel titles by early 1964. Now here we were somewhere around the beginning of 1967. At that point in my own comic-reading history, I was already tiring of Marvel's endless continued stories, made almost unbearable by the shitty spotty newsstand distribution of the time, which made me keep missing issues in all these ongoing storylines! And then, a couple of years later they had the nerve to raise the price of their comics from twelve cents to an unheard-of fifteen cents! So all I saw of Steranko's work at first was his inauspicious beginnings in Strange Tales on their “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature. Nice, but not really much different from what I was already used to from Marvel. And for two or three years, until the early 1970s, I bought very few comics compared to the mid-1960s, when I literally read almost anything I could get my hands on.

Then one fateful day – and I'm not overstating it by saying that – I was going through a stack of recent comics at my friend Jeff's house and I saw this:

The comic I held was coverless, but I immediately fell in love with it. The artwork was incredible. I even liked the judicious use of color. But what the hell was it that I was holding? I was too enthralled by the comic to look at the indicia, the information that's (usually) at the bottom of the first page that tells you what you're reading.

I turned the page, and saw a blond man in a trench-coat, which he doffed to reveal the costume of Captain America! As it happened, this was a copy of Captain America #111. (The last issue of that title which I'd owned had been #109, drawn by Jack Kirby. Steranko drew #110, #111, and #113.) I read on. Why wasn't he wearing his damned mask? I wondered. I read further, only to find to my astonishment that Cap's long-dead partner, Bucky, had somehow returned from the dead. (Back in those days, deceased comic characters didn't get resurrected quite as often.) I kept reading, and discovered to my relief that this “Bucky” was actually a character named Rick Jones, a sort of sidekick for Cap that used to hang around with the Hulk before him.

For all intents and purposes, that's the day that I truly discovered Jim Steranko.

Okay, I'll let the pictures take over for a bit. Here are some more shots from Captain America #111:

And by the way, Cap did eventually put his freakin' mask on!

To continue... I started researching Steranko's output, only to find out that he'd been doing some mind-blowing work here and there. He had worked on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. which now had its own title.

He had worked on X-Men.

And while he was doing his work for Marvel, he was art director for an ad agency and he played regularly in a rock'n'roll band! (Rumor has it that the man never sleeps.)

Nor did he slow down after he left Marvel, either. Here, in only an approximate order, are just some of his contributions to pop culture.

He found time to do this Star Trek poster... (I purchased one of these '70s posters sometime during the '80s.)

He developed his own character, Talon... (I bought one of these posters along with the Star Trek poster.)

He returned to Marvel to do one story for one of their romance titles, as well as several covers.

He produced two volumes of The Steranko History of Comics, an incredibly informative project which never saw a third volume.

By the way, I can name every single comic character on that cover!

He provided cover illustrations for about two dozen paperback novels reprinting various issues of the 1930s and 1940s pulp legend, The Shadow.

He adapted the 1981 film Outland, starring Sean Connery.

He found time to do little stories here and there, like this one from Superman #400...

He did the cover for this comic book revival of The Green Hornet...

(And here's the same illustration without all the excess crap that publishers require.)

He even did character designs for Raiders of the Lost Ark!

So, all of you non-comic people – if there are any of you left after all that – have I impressed upon you how important this gentleman is? (And as I ask that, I'm sitting here smiling because I left out so much! He's been a magician and an escape artist, a magazine publisher, and more... and more... and more...!)

Thus endeth one of the longest introductions in history.

On the evening of August 9th, TerrifiCon offered a dinner with the man himself, as it happened, and this exclusive get-together was part of my birthday present from my friend John (as explained in my last chapter).

As also mentioned last time, I skipped the Howard Chaykin panel that evening just so I could rest up for the scheduled four-hour event. I showed up only five or ten minutes before the 8:00 p.m. start, hoping I still had a chance to get a good seat, since I didn't know whether we had assigned seating or not

Surprisingly, I was the first one there. In fact, I was all by myself in our little dining area for several minutes. There were three identical tables, and nothing in the room's layout that indicated where Steranko would sit. That's when I took these photos, the only photos I ended up taking that entire evening!

Finally, the other guests began arriving. "My" table started filling up. In no time at all there were somewhere between two and three dozen people, waiting for the guest of honor, who seemed to be running a bit late. And since the people I sat with all got along so well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that things were just as cordial at the two other tables. At least, I didn't see any punches thrown. But it was no surprise that we all got along so well. We had a lot in common.

Eventually, the word came down. Steranko was running a bit late. Due to a faulty intercom, many of the convention-goers didn't realize that TerrifiCon had closed for the night. We were told he'd join us sometime before nine, if that was okay. Okay? Of course it was okay. None of us were going to leave, certainly.

When The Man arrived, he sat at each table for a generous interval while the rest of us ate our meals and conversed with him. I say "the rest of us" because I'm pretty sure Steranko himself didn't eat. Apparently, he eats as often as he sleeps.

He looks a lot younger than his actual age, and I get the impression that he is now what he's always been: A fascinating, talented, bundle of energy with an eye for the ladies.

After we'd finished our desserts, Jim let us question him about his own life, and not just the comic-related stuff. He talked about working in comics, yes, but also about performing magic and his various escapes, the extreme poverty he suffered growing up, how he was bullied by a ruthless street gang, and so on. And he was more than happy to let us guide the proceedings with our questions.

Jim Steranko is a remarkable storyteller. I'm not going to try to do justice here to any of his longer stories, but I am going to mention the subject I got him to open up about. I asked him to tell us about the time he slapped Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. (I should justify it a bit to say that Kane slapped Steranko first. If you need more information about the sleazier side of Bob Kane, you can read this post of mine.) I'd read about the incident for the first time only recently, although I believe it happened in the 1970s, not very long after Volume One of The Steranko History of Comics came out.

At first he seemed reluctant to discuss it, but as he got into the story, he became more and more animated. Or maybe agitated is a better word. Toward the end of the story, he was right in front of me, jabbing his finger toward my chest for emphasis as he spoke. I'd hate to have him angry with me.

(And now that I've teased you mercilessly about that tale, if you'd like to read about it elsewhere, here's a link!)

Steranko talked on and on -- it was kinda like reading one of my posts -- and Mitch Hallock, the head honcho of TerrifiCon, told me he was getting a bit nervous because our crowd was supposed to be out of the room by midnight... and it was already apparent that that just wasn't gonna happen!

It got later and later (or should I say earlier?) and Jim finally started autographing comics and other items for those assembled. (The ticket for the dinner included the chance for each of us to have two items signed.) He wasn't in any rush to do that, either. It seemed like he spent ten to twenty minutes with every one of us as he signed the things we'd brought.

The first item I handed him was a trade paperback reprinting a series of Airboy stories drawn by artist Tim Truman (who was also at this year's TerrifiCon). Truman did the interior art, but Steranko had done the cover! So I got my book signed by both.

Back in the 1990s, I had purchased a limited edition poster of that Airboy trade paperback cover. It was signed and numbered by Jim Steranko himself. He took time to tell me that he had enjoyed doing that trade paperback cover because he had loved the original Airboy series when he was a boy in the 1940s.

This is the poster image, but this one wasn't autographed like mine.

But my autographed Steranko poster had been damaged during a move. I told Jim that I had horrible luck where Steranko collectibles were concerned, and went on to explain that not only had I ruined the Airboy poster, but that I also owned one of the original 1970s Talon posters shown above, and when I took that from my closet to bring it to TerrifiCon, I discovered that it was cracked and spoiled with age.

The second item I gave him to autograph was the membership kit to the Shadow Secret Society, an organization Steranko had been involved with years earlier. As evidenced by his many Shadow paperback novel covers, he was and is a huge fan of the character.

 This isn't a photo of my kit. This is just a photo I found online which shows you the envelope's contents.

It was close to 1:30 when the evening finally wrapped up. Several of the two dozen or so guests had already left, but those of us who remained assembled for a group photo.

I find it pleasantly surprising that the shortest man in the line somehow seems to tower above the rest of us.

What I don't find surprising is that Steranko is standing right next to the only woman in the line!

Jim Steranko standing next to my new friends, Jenny and Brian Gordon.

The next day, I ended up at Steranko's table, because I had one more comic for him to autograph. He had two assistants, one male, one female. Even the man referred to him as "Steranko," like he was talking about Elvis, or Cher, or Madonna...

While I was in line, I noticed all the things he had on his table for sale. Posters and prints, mainly, but also some books and magazines, including both volumes of The Steranko History of Comics. And the posters included the Star Trek and Talon posters shown above.

Two places ahead of me in line stood a man with not one but two copies of The Incredible Hulk Special #1. Only the cover was drawn by Steranko.

Steranko handled the books very carefully, but in spite of that, when he slid one of the comics toward him, its cover came completely off! Everyone present held their breath, and the comic's owner had a look on his face like he'd just watched a truck run over his dog.

Obviously -- to me, anyway -- the cover that detached so easily must have been attached by the proverbial thread to begin with. All Jim could do was have his assistant refund the money the man had paid for the signature. I have to wonder whether that young man blamed Steranko for the damage. I wouldn't have.

When it was my turn, he remembered me from the previous night. I pointed at the Talon poster and he nodded sadly. He obviously remembered my little horror story, too.

Then I asked him something he'd probably been asked for years, although at this point, forty-plus years after Volume Two, it's more of a running joke. I asked when Volume Three of The Steranko History of Comics would be completed. He smiled and replied "Oh, it's all finished," but before I could even raise an eyebrow, he tapped his temple and said "Up here."

Finally, I handed him Captain America Special Edition #1. This was a two-issue deluxe series from 1984 which reprinted Steranko's three Captain America issues, plus other material.

Captain America Special Edition #1 contained Captain America #111, the issue which had first turned me on to Jim Steranko's breathtaking art. I flipped through the issue before he signed it, showing him how I became enthralled with the original comic, page by page. And yes, I told him the entire detailed story which you read earlier, describing my reactions about the coloring, and Cap fighting Hydra without his mask, and Bucky...

As he signed it, he looked up at me and said "Wow, that's a great story."

Jim Steranko. Jim Steranko said "Wow, that's a great story." To me.

TerrifiCon 2020 is gonna have to bust its metaphorical butt to top this year's convention.

*  *  *  *  *

Those of you who read my blog last year when I posted about TerrifiCon 2019 may recall the huge Thanos figure on display. Well, "he" was there this year, too.

However, after the convention was over, he looked like this at one point.

And the hall looked like this.

Seems kinda sad somehow, dunnit?

See you next August!

And if you read this, please comment? Especially if you came here from Facebook. Thank you.

Thanks for your time, and your perseverance!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Best! Weekend! Ever! (or, "Tales of TerrifiCon 2019, Part Four") ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

By the time the end of my second day at TerrifiCon 2019 rolled around, I had had a great time, a wonderful time, and -- dare I say it? -- a terrific time... and I was pretty relaxed, to boot. So relaxed that the very same guy who'd allowed himself to be photographed only to avoid being impolite to Greg Hildebrandt willingly posed for, and just as willingly paid for, a photo of himself (shown above).

Yep, as the running title of "Best! Weekend! Ever!" implies, I had... well... certainly one of the best weekends I've ever enjoyed, and definitely the best weekend in recent memory.

And frankly, I owe it all to my friend John.

Regular readers of my blog have seen John's name before, usually in relation to some movie or concert he and I have seen together. He and I have a lot in common and have been friends for about thirty years now.

John's job pays pretty well, and it enables him to be extremely generous, to friends, co-workers... It's kind of amazing, actually.

My attendance at TerrifiCon this year -- my ticket, the motel room, meals, and the little "bonus" which will be the focus of Part Five of this blog series -- was an early birthday present from John. (My birthday isn't until November. John's is in December. Just sayin'.)

Now, how do you repay something like that?

I mean, in strictly monetary terms, you can't repay it. Well, I can't, anyway. (And besides, friends don't put dollar amounts on favors they do for each other.)

While I was going crazy on August 9th and 10th getting signatures from almost twenty comic creators, John was being much more selective. There are only a handful of creators in the various entertainment fields whom he follows faithfully. One of those creators is a writer named Chris Claremont.

Those of you who follow comics don't need to be told who Chris Claremont is. And for my readers who aren't familiar with the comics world? Well, let's see if I can sum up the man's influence in only one (long) paragraph:

Even if you don't follow, and never really have followed, the world of comic books, I'm betting you've heard of the X-Men. The original team was created in the early 1960s, and was never as popular as other Marvel Comics characters, such as Spider-Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Hulk, etc. They created an “all-new, all-different” X-Men team in the mid-1970s, and almost from the start, Chris Claremont took over writing their stories, and developing their characters, and introducing sub-plots... Roughly 45 years after he took over the reins, they've gotten much more popular. They're one of the biggest drawing points Marvel Comics has. Claremont hasn't been the primary X-Men scripter for many years, but, not to slight any other writers or artists, his influence helped make the team what it is today in the public eye.

And Claremont was going to be at TerrifiCon 2019, so I decided that John's birthday present this year from me was going to involve Chris Claremont somehow. Easier said than done. When John sees something he wants, he generally buys it right then and there. And he was at TerrifiCon, too. He naturally planned to meet Chris Claremont, get a couple of items signed, and probably buy one or two items from Claremont himself...

So I had to get creative.

I've been selling comic books and other collectibles for most of the last 45 years, usually as a secondary source of income. And from the early to the mid-1990s, I was selling new comics and related merchandise. During that time, I received a lot of promotional material, mostly what are called "POP" (point of purchase) posters. I still have a lot of this junk – I mean, quality merchandise – in my boxes at the flea market where I peddle my papers, so to speak.

In 1995, Claremont had left Marvel Comics and was working for DC Comics on a comic title he'd co-created called Sovereign Seven. DC had sent a 3-D promotional advertising display to comic dealers to introduce the book. It consisted of a small holographic poster and a crazy little contraption that unfolded to make a 3-D version of that same little poster.

And I had one. I still had one. And I knew that John didn't have one, nor would he be likely to come across one since it was distributed to dealers only and was never offered commercially.

(I got this photo from eBay. Mine wasn't shrink-wrapped.) 

John and I attended some panels and did some other things together that weekend, but some things separately. So it was easy for me to make sure that John's meeting with Claremont and my meeting with Claremont took place at different times.

For myself, I had Chris autograph a trade paperback collecting the 1980 X-Men stories comprising what comic fans have called “The Dark Phoenix Saga” for almost forty years. This was a thrilling storyline that had me eagerly awaiting each monthly installment in the tale.

Then it was time to have the Sovereign Seven material signed. The 3-D piece was in perfect condition. It had never been opened into its 3-D state. I wanted to have Chris Claremont sign the little poster for John.

But before I asked for his signature, I spent a couple of minutes telling him about my friend John. First I explained how John was a huge fan who had already bought some things from Claremont the day before. I also told Chris about a few things John had done for me in the past. Finally I talked about my “early birthday present,” and all it entailed. I asked Chris if he could personalize the Sovereign Seven piece for John. Really personalize it.

Here's what he wrote:

"To John --"

“Happy Birthday to a True Friend.”

 "Chris Claremont"

John was attending TerrifiCon for all three days, Friday through Sunday. I was only going to be there for the first two. Before I left Saturday evening, I handed John the signed Sovereign Seven material, saying “There is no way in Hell I am going to wait until December to give you this.”

Well, it's only fair. He gave me my birthday present early.

I've been a fan of Paul Gulacy's art since – yeah, yeah, you guessed it – the 1970s. His earliest work was somewhat derivative of comics legend Jim Steranko, something that Gulacy never tried to hide. In fact, an early story from Marvel Comics' Master of Kung Fu actually has a character, Demmy Marston, whose look was based on Steranko.

The quality of Gulacy's work improved issue by issue. And so did his talent for drawing likenesses. In one of his earliest Master of Kung Fu stories, he "borrowed" from television and drew a character based on Kung Fu's Kwai Chang Caine (played by David Carradine).

Eventually, Shang-Chi, star of the MoKF feature, looked uncannily like Bruce Lee (something Lee's widow may or may not have called Stan Lee about, to protest). 

Yes, as I said, Gulacy's artwork got better...

And better...

And better still (note the Marlon Brando lookalike)!

I was lucky. When I arrived at Gulacy's table, there was only one person in the line before me, so when it was my turn, we got to talk for quite a while. The one thing I clearly recall from our conversation was when I mentioned that during his Master of Kung Fu days, it used to bother me that the interiors of the issues contained his fantastic artwork, but the cover art was usually by someone else. Sometimes it was a very well-drawn cover, sometimes not, but when it wasn't drawn by him, it irked me. He admitted that the reason was that he was usually so late turning in the issue itself, they didn't have time to have him draw the cover as well!

And that wraps it up for today, fellow babies.... except to tell you that the fifth-and-final chapter will prominently feature the legendary artist mentioned briefly above, Jim Steranko!

I'll be posting Part Five sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening!

And again, if you read this, please comment? Especially if you came here from Facebook. Thanks so much!

And thanks for your time.
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