Last weekend I packed up my comic book T-shirts (that’s as close as I’m going to get to cosplay), picked up my son and we took a father son road trip to Portland for the Wizard World Comic Con.
There were several celebrities that were going to be there that I really wanted to see. Bruce Campbell, Michael Rooker,Chris Clairmont, and of course Neal Adams.
I have always held Neal Adams in high regards. To me he was the man who brought comics into the modern age. He took the 60’s cartoony Batman and made the 70’s gritty dark night. The joker went from silly to maniacal because of Adams. He is responsible for diverting my attention away from Superman and The Fantastic Four to characters like DeadMan and The Spectre. He broadened my view of what comics could do and bridged my interest in comic books, noir, and horror.
Not only that but Neal Adams also did a lot for the comic book community. The legal work and vocal work that he did paved the way for artists today to work for more than one company, and made it possible for them to own the rights to thier work and profit with those creations.
I was lucky enough to have had the honor to spend some time with the great Jack Kirby and his wife in 1992 while working at a comic store in Arizona. We were helping to sell the book “The art of Jack Kirby” along with author Ray Wyman. I was astonished to hear that the Kirby’s had little to no means of profiting for the extensive work he had done with Marvel at the time. Because of the help of Adams, Kirby had recently recieved a lot of original artwork that he had produced at the house of Marvel and hence this book was a possibility. In fact, only this past Sept. 2014 has a settlement finally been made between Marvel and the Kirby’s, and this is great news for both sides. I was proud to have had the chance in even the smallest of ways to help Jack and Roz Kirby, and they were both some of the kindest and most interesting people I have ever met.
So there I was at the long stretch of tables in the middle of artist alley in Portland. Tables and tables covered with prints from some of Neal Adams famous cover works. It wasn’t a matter of if I was going to purchase something but What. The print of the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali immediately grabbed me. In 1978 I had pleaded successfully to my mother for this book when I was 8 years old. An oversized 14×11 book pitting the Man of steel against the best fighter who had ever lived ( and the only sports star that I loved and knew by name other than evil kneival). I still own this very comic, worn, bent, loved and beautiful. I chose a large print of this cover as well as the greatest Batman cover of all time Batman #227.
After giving over my credit card and having my bank account depleted I approached Neal Adams with these two items in hand feeling like the kid in A Christmas Story waiting in line to ask Santa for a red rider BB gun with a compass in the stock. I mentally rehearsed what I wanted to say to him knowing that I would only have a few minutes to express my adoration for both his art work and his work to help himself and other comic artists like Jack Kirby.
I placed the two large prints down and looked Neal in the eye and shook his hand. I gave a heart felt speech while he signed, about how not only did I respect his artwork but thanked him for all the work he has done for comic artists. I expressed how the other artists here owed some credit to him for being able to draw and sale artwork at these conventions, and I thanked him. I told him about how I spent a couple of days with Jack Kirby before his death and what it meant that he had helped to return some of his artwork from Marvel. Neal asked me about the choice of the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali print I had chosen, and I expressed how this artwork held sentimental weight to me. It has been a favorite of mine since I was 8 years old.
“Do you like sports”
I thought he was asking what had drawn me to this particular comic at that age. I begain to tell him that I was a fan of Muhammad Ali and boxing…
“Do you like sports”
I hesitated.. Not sure what he was asking.
” we’ll I do like some, I…”
“Are you a sports fan?”
I wanted to see where he was trying to lead so I said.
“Yes. I’m a sports fan”
“well take a look at that piece over there. did you see it?”
And with that he directed his assistant to usher me back over to the pile of prints to one that was a play on the superman/Ali cover displaying Ali and Michael Jordan in the ring surrounded by famous sports stars through history.
I was that little kid pleading to Santa to hear my rehearsed spiel for a red rider BB gun. ” How about a football” and Neal Adams black boot pressing against my forehead and pushing me down the slide.
No. I don’t want to buy this ESPN rendition, I just want you to say thank you, or something!!
“Ho Ho Ho!” as Neal pushed the sole of his boot into my forehead sending me down the slide back onto the convention floor in a sea of fat captain Americas, and kids buying Dragon ball Z and my little pony toys.
Crushed that my attempt to share an experiance and to heap well deserved praise was diverted for the attempted sale of more merchandise I walked away dazed. My purchase now somehow slightly tarnished and not as valuable in my hands.
I looked up clearing my head to see Chris Clairmont sitting at a table signing. Wow. Chris Clairmont.
” Who is that? My son asked.”
“He wrote some of the greatest X-Men stories I’ve ever read.”
I wanted to stop and meet him, But I walked past, I just couldn’t risk another ” you’ll shoot your eye out” dismissive response. I don’ t have the resiliency of little Ralphie. Besides Bruce Campbell was going to be signing soon.