Tales of the Brazen!
Ah, comics! I can't and won't stop talking about them. Its a curse, rather than a blessing, to be so infatuated with this medium sometimes. I wouldn't say my obsession dominates all aspects of my life, but beware the poor soul who opens up any conversation to do with them...!
(cue spooky Halloween whistle)
As a kid...and throughout my young adulthood, I never expected to be in the presence of industry professionals, let alone interact with them directly. But as one tries to insert themselves in said industry, it's only a matter of time. At first, it may be a table signing at a comic shop; nervously trying to think of something to say to someone you admire, other than "thanks" after they scribble their autograph on your copy of their work.
Then, as you find yourself self-publishing a title, sitting across from them at a convention, slack-jawed in disbelief. "
You made it" - you tell yourself - "You're in the industry now!"
Then you become brazen. Somehow your ego gives you courage to look at these once-Gods of the comic book pantheon as equals...who just happen to be known worldwide as opposed to a few friends who are biased and purchase your stuff. You now approach these titans a bit more confident and attempt to socialize with them, as if you've been next door neighbors. Sometimes it goes well....aaaand sometimes it ends up very awkward.
I will start off and say that I have been fortunate enough to meet many wonderful and talented alum in the comic book realm. From a quick handshake and convo with Garth Ennis in the actual Marvel office in New York City (talk about traveling to Mecca), to having Mark Waid and Alex Ross sign my copy of Kingdom Come and both be very kind despite the legions of fans waiting in line. James Robinson was very chatty and encouraged me to get my copy of "The Golden Age" signed by the equally talented Paul Smith. Hell, Steve Rude not only signed my copy of Nexus, he gave me a quick art tip in my sketchbook, which is 5000x better than an autograph!
But for every satisfying encounter, there is usually some that feel...ehhh. Wanna here about them? Of course you do!
Jim Shooter (1993)
Just to be clear, I knew of Jim Shooter, through the Marvel comics that his name appeared often. I knew he was the mastermind behind Secret Wars and ...um...The New Universe (hey! I liked Spitfire and the Troubleshooters!). I knew he was a big deal. So I decided I was going to stand in line so he could critique my work at Mile High Comics in Anaheim in 1993.
What I didn't know was that Jim had a reputation. At Marvel he was regarded as something of a "My way/highway" type, choosing to change things the way he saw fit, whether it was for the better or the worse. It left some employees a bit disgruntled and made him an imposing person to some degree. Of course, I had scant knowledge of this, as I prepared to crash his "Good Guys" premiere for Defiant Comics with my self-important-attitude and novice scribbles.
As I waited in the lengthy line to meet him, gripping my bright sky-blue binder of artwork, I noticed everyone else was eager to have him sign their copy of "The Good Guys" #1. I started to feel like a jack-ass. Why would I assume he'd have any interest in my amateur artwork? Then I started to stress over the subject matter of my work; it featured my childhood character Whistleman...a ludicrous creation that, by all means of the times, should have gotten me laughed out of the hopeful future of ever getting published. "Should I dip out of line?"- I thought - "Nope, its shit or get off the pot...and you have one hefty turd to deliver"...OK bad analogy, but let's move on....
Finally, I come face to face with this tall, stern-looking guy, hair drawn back into a Steven Segal ponytail with a mug similar to Robert Davi. Nervously, I flop my open binder in front of him with a quick "Hey Jim...I was wondering if you could offer me some critique...?"
Offer you're critique?? are you crazy??? This guy is going to reach down my throat, pull up my heart, put it in a blender and drink it like the finest smoothy he's ever had!
At first, Shooter had the look of a flustered aristocrat, trying to process why this skinny nobody would dare assault him with this garbage. But he then composed himself and flipped through my scanned pages. He was silent for a few seconds while he actually considered my stuff. I awaited my new asshole to be torn open, but to my surprise he offered me this:
"Your storytelling is good. You need to work on some of your perspective angles, but yeah keep going. Storytelling is one of the most difficult things I find artists struggle with."
And with a quick "thanks" I grabbed my stuff and hurried off.
Ok, so this may not be the horror-story you were expecting...it was more about the suspense of what was to come...but let's face it, this was a pretty decent ending for me! Pumped, I think I went home and drew for two weeks with no food or water. No wait...I would be dead...it was more like two hours with no food..and water...you get the point...anyways
On to the next!
Bob Layton (2015?)
Sigh. This one kills me to this day. Headlines would read this as:
Derek Lipscomb, self-proclaimed Iron Man fan, fumbles hard with legendary Iron Man artist.
A few years ago, before there was The Maroon, I was tabling at Long Beach Comic Expo, when I discovered that Bob Layton was at his own table nearby. Now...before I get burned, I must explain this major fuck-up on my part.
My first Iron Man comic I ever owned was this beauty:
It's the one that made me not just an Iron Man reader, but a Marvel reader as well. It gateway'ed me into West Coast Avengers, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Vision & Scarlet Witch...To me, this was a turning point book. Mostly because of that glorious cover. A cover whom I never bothered to check on who illustrated it.
So fast-forward to the time the first Iron Man film hit. I was snapping up collected trades of Shell-Head's early stuff and I came across this gem:
A great collection of issues that featured a unique assortment of Iron Man's most well-loved suits. In the last few pages featured a retrospective by Mr. Layton where he discusses his thoughts on all of the armors he's illustrated/created.
One of my favorite armors is Shell-head's Silver Centurion armor. It was at a time where everyone was getting a make-over (Spidey got a black suit, Cap's was turned into U.S. Agent, Daredevil..well...anyways). Layton talks about how this was a design that went against his design theory about making everything sleeker rather than a bit flamboyant. I took this as a tell that he was the first to draw the suit on page, and I immediately thought back to a specific page in issue #197:
Clearly, Tony is testing out his new Silver Centurion armor, judging on the shape of the arc reactor and those ridiculous shoulder pads. Somehow, this all led me to believe Mr. Layton was the artist of this particular issue. You see where this is going, right? NEXT TIME CHECK THE DAMN CREDITS, DEREK!
So Here I come, approaching Bob, who was just minding his own business and I attempt to convey my appreciation for his work on Iron man over the course of his career. At first Layton seems bored with my broken-record praise. But that changes from mild annoyance to agitated venom. It's when I compliment his work on the cover of issue #197, that he starts to get feral.
"I don't think that was my work, kid" He says in a sour tone.
And what do I do?
"Are you sure? The one with Iron Man firing his repulsors? The Secret Wars 2 Crossover?"
Still believing that if he might have created the Silver Centurion, then he MUST have been the first to put it on page.
"Yeah, that's absolutely not mine. I think you got me confused with somebody else." At this point, he's not even looking at me, he seems so irate. I take that as a mission abort and walk away feeling stupid. "Why didn't I check who did that issue, let alone that glorious cover, first?" I thought. I felt like a faux fan, and decided to get to the bottom of this once the Con was over.
When I got home, I googled issue 197 to find out that one John Byrne, another controversial figure in comics, had drawn said cover. The interior art was credited to Rick Buckler. I don't remember if I read it correctly, but there seemed to be some disdain between Layton and Byrne, which might be why I got such a cold response for my ignorance. I tried to find evidence of this again recently but only came across this quote from Byrne regarding Bob Layton's art that is mentioned here http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/hulk_annual_7.shtml:
"It's kind of difficult to put into words why I don't like Bob Laytons's inking. This is going to sound really silly, but I actually feel physically ill when I look at Bob's stuff. I really do. It's like everything is greasy and slimy. You know those things you can buy that hang from your rear view mirror that are made out of rubber and you touch them and they feel greasy. That's how Bob's stuff looks to me. And all his men are queer. They have these bouffant hairdos and heavy eye make-up and an upper lip with a little shadow in the corner which to me says lipstick. Even the Hulk. I will never forgive him for what he did to the Hulk's face in the annual that we did together. A lot of the other stuff I liked, but the Hulk's face, the Angel's face, the Angel, God!I remember my father looking at the stats of the finished inks and there's a shot of the Angel standing there with his hands on his hips saying hello to somebody and my father said, "Well this guy's queer." No, he didn't look queer in the pencils Dad."
Yikes. John Byrne, ladies and gentlemen. I suppose I'd be pretty irate as well, given Byrne's stark (pun!) honesty. With any regard, I truly feel stupid and sorry for insulting Mr. Layton indirectly. Not my finest moment.
Stan Lee (2013-14?)
If traveling to New York City to be invited into the Marvel Office is like making your trek to Mecca or the Vatican, then meeting Stan Lee is almost akin to meeting the Pope. I knew that if the opportunity would arise, I was going to make it happen. After all , Stan is what I like to refer to as our generation's Walt Disney, complete with polarizing opinions of their moral character. Some people see him as the Godfather of Comics while others see him as the glory hound who left legendary artists like Jack "King" Kirby in the dust.
With any regard, the opportunity arose at L.A.'s Comikaze to come face-to-face with the legend. This time, instead of being ballsy and bringing my artwork, I decided to bring my copy of the Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man (#1) Series written by the man himself for a signature.
My wife, and three friends stood in line for a good hour before we reached him. As I got closer, I thought I'd try to get some sort of verbal exchange between myself and the guy I remember narrating "Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends" from my youth. I noticed that he was sparking up conversations with people at random, and I wanted that opportunity as well.
So when I finally figured out what I was going to say, I gave his assistant my book so they could hand it to him and I found myself before one of the creators of the Marvel Universe. Without hesitation, I spoke:
"Thanks for being an inspiration, Stan!"
Mind you, he didn't even look up...he just signed the book and slid it to the side! And with that I was ushered aside for the next person in line. OK? That was to be my epic encounter with Stan the Man? I watched as somebody spoke to him about their time in the military, in which Stan looked up and engaged him in deep conversation. I mean, I get it...I didn't have the best opening line....and military experience is always way more important...
I shook it off, reminding myself to have actually been able to engage him in any way, and continued on with the convention. However, something didn't sit well with me...
Fast Forward to 2013's Wizard World Convention in Anaheim!
While visiting this event, I was suddenly hit with an announcement: Meet and Greet Stan Lee for a photo opportunity.
This is what I needed to fulfill that circle-is-now-complete moment. I quickly signed up for it and stood in line. We were shifted all across the convention floor to keep his locale a mystery. Finally we arrived to a mysterious enclosure (in the middle of the convention- so much for being discreet!) and people started entering this mysterious room one-by-one! I started to think of a conversation starter...what could get a more...wordy response? I sucked at this, but I thought I had a good one. Finally it was my turn:
I was rushed in what appeared to be a small photo booth, and there before me, sat Stan Lee, the guy who wrote the ideas that shaped the Marvel Universe...the guy who made cameos in not only all of the current MCU films, but Mallrats as well! The guy who- is that a band-aid on his chin??
Before I could process that strange anomaly, I quickly blurted out
"Howya' doin' Stan?"
I gave a thumbs-up and then the picture snapped. I was pushed out back into the convention floor. It all happened so fast. It was a lot to process, but the dead was done!
Again, it was a short response, but at least this time he said it with his classic chuckle. It felt a bit more on how I thought it'd pan out. It began to sink in. I (barely) met Stan twice, now. That was enough. I was content. Plus, I have a photo to one day show my kids. It'd be like my parents showing me a picture of them with Walt Disney or something mind-blowing like that.
But seriously, why did he have a band-aid on his chin? Did he have a shaving accident in the morning? Did it have to be on the one picture I took with him???
Of course, since his passing, I look back on these moments with gratitude. To meet one of the many influences of your passion is an incredible moment of fortune. But to have an awkward tale to coincide with it, makes it far more richer. I have a few other moments like this, but this has gone on far too long as is, and these are my pinnacle moments of shame, desperation and brazen ignorance. It's hard not to fan-boy over certain figures you've seen in various media throughout your youth, only to come feet within their same breathing space. I would encourage anyone who has a person they look to for inspiration to not shy away from an encounter...just not with the horrible approach vectors that I sail on. Be respectful of their space, their time and do your research before just plopping something down in front of them or claiming you know more about their professional life than they do! Otherwise, you too, may be writing a lengthy blog about your encounters...!
That's it for this week! I hope you enjoyed this at my expense!
Oh, and about that photo?
This is a camera pic of my actual photo, which is in a frame sitting in storage waiting to grace the wall of my studio one day... If you look close enough, you can see that ol' round band-aid on his chin...!
I hope your laughing at this Stan...and not at me...