Last Saturday I went to the New York Comic Book Marketplace comic convention at the Penn Pavilion near Madison Square Garden. For those unfamiliar with the NYCBM, it is run by Mike Carbonaro, who back in the 1990s set up the Big Apple Comic Con shows. One way to describe Carbonaro would be “David Johansen overdosed on Red Bull.” He’s this high-energy character who seems to just bounce all over the place, a manic grin on his face. Carbonaro also has the habit of attempting to fit as many comic book creators and retailers into as small a space as possible. I would not recommend attending the NYCBM if you suffer from severe claustrophobia. That said, Carbonaro and his associate, the very pleasant Allen Rosenberg, often do a great job of lining up some fantastic comic book professionals. So I find it can be worth putting up with the cramped, crowded conditions to obtain autographs and sketches.
Of late I haven’t had much in the way of disposable income, so my main intention in going to the latest NYCBM was to meet creators and get some books signed. The show had a number of Golden and Silver Age veterans as guests. Some I had met before, others I had not. In either case, it was an opportunity to talk with them, and let them know how much I enjoyed their work over the years.
The one creator who I really wanted to meet was the legendary Stan Lee who, in the 1960s, co-created pretty much the entire Marvel Universe with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Unfortunately, there were separate tickets to get Lee’s signature, and it was a whopping $50 an item. So I had to pass. (To this day, I mentally kick myself in the rear end that I did not get Lee’s autograph back in 1994, when he did a signing at a comic shop in White Plains along with Larry Hama, Ron Garney, and Richard Ashford. The line for Lee was long, and I was an impatient teenager, so I didn’t get on it. But in comparison to trying to meet Lee nowadays, I realize it was a much shorter wait. And it was free!)
Luckily, I was able to meet several other great creators. One was legendary Marvel artist Joe Sinnott. This isn’t the first time I’ve met Sinnott, but it’s always a pleasure, since he is such a nice guy, as well as a fantastic artist. Sinnott did some fabulous inks/finishes over numerous artists on various Marvel titles. He was, in my opinion, the best inker Jack Kirby ever had on Fantastic Four. Sinnott’s style perfectly suited the far-out science fiction elements of that series. I love how he inked all the “Kirby-tech” machinery. I didn’t have any copies of the Kirby FF issues to get signed. Instead I brought along my copy of Giant Size Fantastic Four #3, which had Sinnott inking Rich Buckler’s magnificent pencils on the cosmic opus “Where Lurks Death… Ride the Four Horsemen!” I’d already gotten Buckler’s signature on the book at last year’s NYCBM, and so I was happy to have the other half of the art team autograph it.
I also met Allen Bellman, an artist who worked at Marvel in the 1940s and 50s. I obtained a commission drawing of Captain America from Bellman through the mail in November 2010. Bellman lives in Florida, but he makes appearances at conventions, and I did not want to miss finally meeting face to face with him when he visited New York. He remembered me from our correspondence due to the fact that nowadays I’m in an area of Queens where his sister lived back when he was a kid. Bellman used to take the trolley to visit her, and he was interested to learn that in certain areas of the neighborhood you can still see the old tracks after all this time.
Another individual who I had been looking forward to meeting was Greg Theakston. Artist, historian, and publisher, Theakston inked much of Kirby’s DC Comics work in the 1980s. His company Pure Imagination has released numerous volumes collecting formerly out-of-print early work by such legends as Kirby, Ditko, Will Eisner, and Alex Toth. Theakston also published The Betty Pages, a magazine dedicated to legendary pin up girl Bettie Page, and he helped bring the “queen of curves” out of seclusion, interviewing her extensively before she passed away in 2008. I purchased a copy of The Betty Pages Annual Volume 2, an interesting read with a large selection of sexy photographs. He also autographed my copy of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 4. (I am a tremendous fan of Kirby’s New Gods titles, and I even have a tattoo of the Beautiful Dreamer character, based on artwork by Kirby & Theakston, on my left leg.) I had a nice time chatting with Theakston, and he was kind enough to draw a lovely sketch of Bettie Page for me.
One thing I noticed at the NYCBM was that a number of the comic book artists were charging for autographs. I think this is a relatively new phenomenon, because I’ve been going to comic shows since I was in high school, and in the past creators never asked for money, unless you brought along a ridiculously large pile of books to get signed. And I’ve always felt that if someone did that, then the creator probably should make a few dollars autographing literally dozens of comics.
However, this time around, even if you only had a few items, some artists wanted payment. The most blatant example of this was Marvel Zombies artist Arthur Suydam. Maybe I misunderstood him, but he seemed to be saying that he would not autograph anything unless you purchased one of his prints. I only had a single book with me to get signed so I passed. Maybe next time.
Also asking for payment was the aforementioned Rich Buckler, who wanted three dollars per autograph, not an unreasonable request. Buckler, the creator of the groundbreaking Deathlok series, was a prolific artist at both Marvel and DC in the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, I think since then that his art style is considered too “traditional” or “old school” or whatever by today’s editors. Which is a shame, because Buckler is super-talented, and I would really enjoy seeing him draw a regular book again. It would be great to see him do a Deathlok revival. It’s regrettable that he’s forced to be charging for autographs. I only had two books with me, so I happily gave him the money. The person in front of me had a stack of probably fifteen to twenty comics, though, and they were being very, very picky, indicating precisely which spot on each cover Buckler should sign. Given that sort of situation, I think Buckler was quite justified to be charging a small fee.
I paid ten dollars to get a signature from legendary artist Carmine Infantino. Yes, I have a couple of other things signed by him, but given that he is getting up there in years and is not in the best of health, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to meet Infantino again. It’s too bad I didn’t have one of those collections of his great Silver Age DC stories to get autographed, such as the Flash of Two Worlds hardcover. So instead I had him sign one of the trade paperbacks collecting the Star Wars comics he drew for Marvel. The guy in line before me had a stack of ten different DC Archives editions of Flash, Justice League, etc and I watched as he casually forked over one hundred bucks to Infantino to get them all signed. Wish I had that kind of spare change!
I did have enough money in my budget for a few sketches. In addition to the Bettie Page by Greg Theakston, I also got nice pieces done by Billy Tucci and Ian Dorian. I posted scans on the Comic Art Fans website… http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60
As I mentioned, the NYCBM was very chaotic, and I had to duck out for a while, get some fresh air, and sit down for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I don’t even like Starbucks, but I don’t know of any other coffee shops near Penn Station. Still, despite the insanity, it was a fun show, and I enjoyed going.
Afterwards, I met up with my girlfriend, and had a nice, quiet, romantic dinner with her. It was a lovely way to end the day.