Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York Comic Con 2012

So last week the wife and I drove to New Jersey so that I could go to the New York Comic-Con. It was held at the Javits Convention Center from Oct 11~14, but I only went on Friday, October 12.

We left our house in Columbus, OH at about 8 AM on Thursday. The plan was to drive through the rest of Ohio, then West Virginia, then Pennsylvania before getting into New Jersey. The whole trip was supposed to take us about eight hours.

However, a day or two before we left the wife mentioned that she would like to see Falling Water, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is nestled in the outskirts of Pittsburgh. We map-quested it and I went to the homepage and got specific directions. Then we called and made a reservation for 12:30 on Thursday. I figured we would take about half an hour to see was a summer home, for goodness sakes. How long could it take?!

Well....LONG story short, it took a good two hours to do the whole experience. We got there before 12:30 but couldn't find a parking spot, so we missed our 12:30 "tour" and had to wait for an opening at the 12:45 one. Then the tour itself was one hour, no exceptions. In hindsight I'm glad we took the time, as it is a beautiful home and a beautiful spot. Still, at the time I was thinking, "Really? Can we not just move this along a bit more?!" :-) So although we left the house with plenty of time to spare, we ended up getting about 90 minutes behind. We didn't get to my buddy Brian's place in Maplewood NJ until about 8 PM that evening.

My original plan was to go to the convention on both Friday and Saturday. Then I waited too long to get tickets, so Saturday's show sold old and I could only go on Friday. Then when the wife said she wouldn't mind going, too, I went back to get her a ticket and they were sold out on Friday, too. I should have known this was a bad omen....

Brian works in The City so we got on the early train from NJ to NYC on Friday AM and parted ways at Penn Station.The wife and I walked down to Javits Center and traded in my bar-code receipt for an actual pass. However, (there will be a lot of those in this story) because my wife didn't have a pass, she wasn't allowed into the convention center AT ALL. Every other convention I've ever been to had an "open space" area like a lobby or something where people could meet. Not this time, not this place. It was cool and windy outside, but people could not wait inside if they didn't have a ticket. By this time my wife wanted to use the bathroom, so she had to take MY ticket and go inside (not into the convention itself, mind you) to use the facilities. Right off I was annoyed at the logistics. She also could not sit anywhere and watch people while I waited to get in. (It was 9 AM or so and the doors didn't open until 10 AM.) We lounged around outside for a while to figure out whee things were. When she walked off to start her day and I went inside. Not the best start to the day.

I should tell you that I was wearing a green AQUAMAN t-shirt underneath an orange long-sleeve shirt. I was not wearing a costume, but I was showing my fan-colors. I was cold outside, and warm inside. Another thing to be annoyed about. ;-) 

As soon as the wife walked off and I walked inside, I was shepherded like a member of the flock into a huge cavernous room. All of us Geeks were lined up to keep us in order while we waited for permission to Enter. I took this time to look over the program and try to find the artists I wanted to meet. The map of the facility was not clear to me because I was not familiar with the layout of the whole place and I hadn't been given any opportunity to familiarize myself with it! I figured I would find stuff, though, and I zoned out for the next 20 minutes or so.

At about 10:30 my line was finally allowed "up" and by this point the doors had been thrown open to the outsiders, too. So as I walked back upstairs from the basement cavern they had us in I realized that I could have stayed outside with the wife and actually gotten in earlier if I had NOT entered earlier~! Mentally kicking myself for this I followed the other sheep people into the convention. Not recognizing anything from the program's map, I asked somebody "Where's Artists' Alley?" It turns out that it was a separate part of the building, and I could have lined up on THAT side if anybody had guided me there, or if I had known to ask. Grrrr.....! Half an hour wasted?!?!
Artist Alley was WAAAAY the hell on the other side of this crowd. :-(

Okay, so this is when the story actually begins to get good (finally, right?). I got to Artists Alley and immediately met up with my buddy Rob Kelly, he of Ace Kilroy and The Aquaman Shrine fame.  He wished me luck in tracking down the creators I wanted to meet, and we parted ways for a few hours. I made a mental note to buy one of his cool t-shirts of Ace fighting a dark lagoon creature with the caption "Kilroy Was Here!" on it. It was SWELL!! (Of course, I forgot to actually buy one. Oops!)

I walked around to try to find all of the creators I wanted to meet. Several were not even present yet, but I found their tables. I met the current creators of AQUAMAN, penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado,  but they asked me to wait until 12 Noon when they were going to do autographs together near the front of the hall. We chatted a little, and I teased Joe about wearing a Hawkman t-shirt instead of Aquaman. He said he had left his Aquaman t-shirt at home in Brazil. I told them that I would be back later. There was a steady stream of people asking for sketches and other drawings, so I was happy to see that they were busy.

Then I met up with Joe Staton. He signed my GREEN LANTERN, AVENGERS, and JLA covers and we chatted about how his "Dick Tracy" syndicate also owns "Annie," which is being produced on Broadway right now. He gave me some "Annie" bookmarks to take back to my Gahana Theatre troupe because we are doing "Annie" in February. I wish I had some of my JUSTICE SOCIETY comics, but they are all back in Japan. I actually told him that, and he was mildly amused by it. (I had them shipped to me when I lived there, and then I did not get them shipped back when I moved back...!) 

I also met up with Rich Buckler, who was sitting near to Joe Staton. He was charging for his autographs, so instead of getting him to sign all six or so JLA and TEEN TITANS comics I had brought, I picked out one of each. Rich Buckler is very famous as one of the post-Jack Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR artists and also as the co-creator of Marvel's Deathlok. But at DC he mostly did covers and ALL-STAR SQUADRON, which I kept with my JUSTICE SOCIETY comics in Japan. Oh, well!

I walked around again and found that George Perez' line was not so long. When I asked, it turned out that he was giving out numbers, so I gladly took one (#44). When I found out that he was only on #18, I left again.

By this time Bill Sienkewicz was at his table, so I got in line to meet him. I asked him to sign the elegant  LEGION cover shown below and his only AQUAMAN work, a story where he inked the wonderful Jim Aparo's pencils. We chatted about how much fun it was for him to work with Jim Aparo, who was one of his idols. Sienkewicz (pronounced sin-kev-itz) is best-known as the Marvel artist on MOON KNIGHT and YOUNG MUTANTS, so it surprised him to see some of his rarer non-Marvel work. He was a nice guy, and I asked him to stop by The Aquaman Shrine to talk about his work with Jim Aparo. Hopefully he will.

Walking around still waiting for other artists to appear, for my Perez number to be reached, or for it to be noon so I could get Ivan Reis and Joe Prado's autographs, I happened across David Finch's table. David Finch is one of the current BATMAN artists, but he was well known for doing various Marvel work (I want to say THE HULK, but I don't know for sure). He also did a lot of the BRIGHTEST DAY covers from a year ago, and I had brought two with me just in case I met him. He seemed nice as he signed them while chatting about his new JLA assignment and how much he likes how these BRIGHTEST DAY characters have turned out, especially AQUAMAN.

By this point, Ramona Fradon had arrived. She was definitely one of the reasons I was there, so I was very happy to see her. She was the artist on AQUAMAN during the early Silver Age, when he had a back-up series in books like ADVENTURE and WORLD's FINEST. Then she was the artist on SUPER FRIENDS during the mid-70s. I had brought most (not all!) of my SUPER FRIENDS issues to her for her to sign, which she pleasantly obliged me.

She also had the following 6 x 6 drawing for sale, so I picked it up. I had commissioned a drawing from her recently and got a wonderful pose of Aquaman drawn ala "The Thinker." I told her that work had been me, and she seemed to remember the piece I was talking about. I told her I loved it, but also liked this more "fun-loving" drawing. There was also a wonderful Aquaman-Aqualad drawing with them petting a dolphin that I loved. It was a little bigger than this one and cost $65, which was out of my allotted budget. :-(
As she was signing she would say things like, "Oh, I remember this issue" or "Oh, this was a fun story to do..." and I tried to get some of the behind-the-scene stories. I was having a great time! I had a few issues signed by then-editor Larry Hama, who I had met in Baltimore. We talked about him a little bit (how he had loved working with her) and then I mentioned that I was actually from Ohio. So she looked at me and asked, "So, what's going on in Ohio? Is the state going to go Democratic or Republican?" Oops! I always hate talking politics with celebrities/artists/creators because I don't want to offend them. I also don't want to know if someone I really like is a radical! So I hemmed and hawed a bit. I told the truth, which is that the state really does seem to be split basically fifty-fifty. I said that I had friends on both sides, but that I believed that Ohio would probably just barely go for President Obama. She then came-out as a Democrat, saying that she was scared that Governor Romney would take away Social Security and Medicare etc. She is about 85 years old and an artist, so I guess I could have guessed she was a Democrat...! We talked a little bit about the politics of this great land (she is from NY) and then she was at the end of my stack. She had reached the SF issue shown above, #40, and I laughed as she started to sign it. "Oh, I brought that one especially, because I had a letter printed in it. Funny story, the letter was about another one of your covers that didn't have Aquaman on it. I was writing to ask if you could try to get Aquaman on all the covers." Then she showed some interest, and I showed her the cover I was talking about (#35, below). Then she actually opened up the issue and read my letter! I was a bit embarrassed by this point, but she looked up and told me that the writer was also the guy in charge of the letter column, and he would never print any letters that praised the art; he only printed letters about the stories, or if they criticized the art. She went on about how he was a bit difficult to work with, even though she liked the book and thought she did some of her best work on the series. I told her for sure it was my favorite book for years, and that her work was awesome. I just always wanted Aquaman on the covers. :-) She laughed, and I left, totally forgetting all the hassles I had faced to get to this point. I was happy.
(For your reading pleasure, here is a copy of the letter I wrote back in 1980 that was printed in #40 about issue #35. By the way, the editor got my address wrong. I lived in UNIVERSITY City, not UNION.) (And I stand by my opinion: Aquaman COULD have fit if the rest of the team had been drawn a tad smaller. ;-) ) 
I walked around again, but two guys were still not here. It was still not noon, so I figured I might as well wait at George Perez' table again. Even though my number was still high, if nobody else showed up I would get to go, right? 

So I got in line behind 29, 30, 33, and 34. I figured this was pretty good chance of getting to see one of my favorites. After about half an hour, a couple who had both taken numbers got to go forward. When the husband moved forward and started talking to George, the wife turned to me and handed me her ticket. That was #34. I was now going to be next....! I, in turn, handed off my number (#44) to the guy next to me. However (again?), as we were waiting, more *earlier* numbered people kept showing up. So I kept getting bumped as 21, 18, and 26 all showed up. :-(  So close, and yet so far...!!

As I was waiting I noticed that the other main table in this area was being set up. When I asked I found out that the AQUAMAN artists, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, were going to be signing *here* at noon. So I was at the right spot after all! I went and got in line to wait for them, knowing I was not losing my George Perez spot. (In fact, from where I was I could see that he was still doing sketches for the people I had left behind.) After about ten minutes waiting I got to move forward. Joe and Ivan were signing together to benefit HERO INITIATIVE, one of my favorite charities. They were signing for a donation to the cause (to help support retired or in-need creators with health or other budgetary problems). Because Ivan was the penciller and the more famous one, he was also doing sketches. So I went up to Joe first and he remembered me. We chatted about how good they were on the book (they are moving over to JUSTICE LEAGUE in the next few months). He was a genuinely nice guy. He then told Ivan that I only wanted books signed and not a sketch, so the uber-popular Ivan Reis stopped the sketch he was doing to sign my books for me!  

You might notice that there are three signatures on this cover. Joe Prado signed at the bottom, Ivan Reis signed at the top, and Rod Reis signed in-between them. Rod Reis is the incredibly talented colorist on AQUAMAN. After I got Ivan and Joe to sign, and after I met George Perez, I went to Rod's table and asked him to also sign them. He is doing some incredible color effects on the book, especially in the underwater scenes. These comics (this "zero" issue in particular) and the Ramona Fradon original scanned above are my new treasures. :-)

Now what can I say; how can I express the feeling of going back to George Perez' table and asking the guy standing at the front of the line, "what's your number?" and showing him that mine was lower than his! When George Perez looked up and asked "Who's next?" and I said, "I'm #34" nobody stopped me from being next. It was my turn!!! :-) 

However (haha), by this point I only had $20 left in my wallet! I didn't have enough to get an original sketch for $40. He didn't have any Aquaman drawings among his prints. So I showed him the books I brought and asked him if I could get him to sign them. One of them was a very rare, independently published fanzine of his from 1979. The others were TEEN TITANS, JLA, and AVENGERS. He said sure and signed them off without any complaints. I didn't ask if I had to, but I dropped my last $20 into his "tip jar" and thanked him for being so great for so long. He thanked me for the money and then my experience with George Perez was over. If I *ever* meet him again, I will get a sketch. It's my new goal. :-)
This scan is for you,  Greg and Shag(g)!
I checked in with Rob one last time and told him about my day. He was beginning to do well; he ended up selling out all of his ACE KILROY collections, so huge CONGRATS to him for that. I told him I was going to try to see my remaining Aqua-guys. If they weren't there, then I would give up on them and move on to the "Main Convention Hall." True to my word, I went by Erik Larsen's table and this time he was there! I asked him to sign two of my AQUAMAN comics, one of which I had also gotten Bill Sienkewicz to sign. Erik Larsen had been the writer and the cover artist of this series, so it was cool to meet him. He is more famously known as the creator of The Savage Dragon.He laughed that nobody had liked his version of AQUAMAN, but now the character was doing very well.

I never did see the living legend, Carmine Infantino. He was not in Artist Alley, and when I went to the main exhibition hall I didn't see him there, either. He was not listed on any maps, and I forgot to ask where his booth/table would have been.

The Main Hall was even more crowded then the photo taken above. WALLS of people, and I was there with a back-pack full of comics. I walked around the whole place just to look at things and see what was what. There was a lot more video game type stuff than I thought there would be. A lot of zombies and anime and other non-comic book stuff. The celebrities were stationed somewhere else and I didn't even think to look for them, as I had no money to get any autographs by this point. I think I would have liked to have met Carrie Fisher, though.

I ran into my friend John from Baltimore and we went to Broadway Deli for lunch. He was talking about how NYCC compared to other conventions he has been to, and I decided that Baltimore was more my style. I really had a good time there. Now that I have been to NYCC, I don't think I want to go back. Too many people, and too expensive! I mentioned Dragon Con or Chicago as possibilities in the new year....we'll see.

The last part of my day was shopping. I wanted to get t-shirts for my buddy's kids; I ended up getting a cool "muggle" t-shirt for his daughter and a cool STAR WARS shirt for his son. I also bought toddler t-shirts for two of my work friends' kids (Flash and Superman, respectively). Then I ended my day at Neal Adams' booth. I had met him at Baltimore and again at Columbus, and reminded him of that. I picked up two JLA prints for two friends but didn't see the Captain America I had seen before. My buddy was a big Cap fan and I wanted to get him that. If I bought three prints I got a better deal than if I bought two, so I specifically asked for something with Captain America on it. This made his wife start digging through boxes to find the Cap prints she swore were there somewhere. This allowed me more time to chat with Neal Adams,!! :-) I ended up getting this rare product signed and personalized. I was out of money, but I was happy. 

The wife called almost at the same time I was about to call her; we met up outside and headed back up towards Penn Station. I called Brian but he needed to stay at the office a bit longer, so Yuko and I went to Macy's and walked around for her to take pictures of the Empire State Building and other various NYC things. A few minutes after 5 PM Brian arrived and we got on the train back to NJ.

One last story about the NYCC. On the train back to New Jersey we rode with someone looking very much like this:
I was feeling pretty good about myself and I figured they were in the same high spirits as me, so I said, "Excuse me, may I ask you what you are supposed to be?" It turns out that he is a Brony. Bronies are male fans of My Little Pony, and this character is evidently one of the ponies. I have never seen the show, and I couldn't find anything on YouTube that wasn't a parody. But it was kind of fun to chat with him and his geeky friends as an end to our exciting day.

Brian, Yuko, and I then went out to dinner at a place in Maplewood, NJ and had a normal evening among normal adults. :-)

Saturday we spent with Brian and Virginia and their kids. We went to the beach board-walk at Asbury Park and then hung out at home making cookies. Sunday we got up early and got out on the road. With no problems we got home at about 5:30 PM. Another exciting weekend in the books. My birthday celebrations were finally over. :-)  

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