Saturday, February 8, 2014

Me and the pros

Batman by Jim Lee
I don't get a chance to blog as often as I'd like even though I probably have about five different post ideas that are currently swimming around in my head. For this one, I'll combine three of them into one, as they all fall under the category of comic book professionals whom I've had the pleasure of meeting within the last few months. I'd have four to write about if I included Stan Lee, but I wrote about that in my summer wrap-up post.

The first one was on September 14th when Jim Lee came to my local comic book shop, Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff in Concord, California. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Lee is the current co-publisher of DC Comics, but he's probably better known by fans for his artwork. He got started at Marvel in the late eighties and rose to fame in the early nineties while drawing characters like The Punisher and The X-Men. He later broke off with a bunch of other popular creators to form Image Comics and draw his own creation, WildC.A.T.s. More recently, he's worked for DC, even selling his creations to them, and working on iconic characters like Batman, Superman, and the Justice League.

I've been following most Lee's work ever since he drew The Punisher War Journal back when I was in middle school. I remember approaching him for a signature at WonderCon, and I was able to walk right up to him. Just a couple of years later, he would have lines that would circle the entire event hall. I already had several of his comics signed by him, but I didn't have any of his more recent stuff from DC. I figured that it would be worth checking out, and I got a pretty good variety of books signed by him, including an issue of Strangers in Paradise where he drew the cover and the first five pages. It was cool because I also had that one signed by series creator Terry Moore, who drew the alternate "flip" cover. I even got a photo with him, which you can see below. Right below that is an interview he did with Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors.

Me and Jim Lee

Batman by Neal Adams
My next meetup with a pro was on January 17 when Neal Adams came to Flying Colors. Mr. Adams has been in the business for a long time, and he's probably influenced every artist who came after him either directly or indirectly. He's also one of the artists responsible for making Batman more of a dark, scary-looking vigilante again rather than the campy, Adam West version.

I figured that I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to meet a guy who's had such an influence on an art form that I love. I was also excited that I was able to find an old reprint of a Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic book of his that I had received when I was in elementary school. A friend of mine gave it to me, and it's a bit battered but still perfectly readable. I know that some people, particularly those who are older than me, have a hard time considering comic books to be anything other than kiddie fare. I can tell you that as a kid, I certainly didn't think that this stuff was aimed at me. This was serious stuff, with one of the stories dealing with Black Canary getting taken in by a cult. I don't think that I even knew what a cult was back then.

Anyway, the ticket that I bought afforded me two signatures. I was all set to bring in that one and a collection of his various Batman comics.

And then something occurred to me.

I received my first comic books when I was three years old and in the hospital for open-heart surgery. A kid with the same first name as me gave them to me. Sharing a hospital room with another kid named Lance is remarkable enough, because I probably can still count all the Lances that I've known in my forty years on this planet on both of my hands with maybe a pinky and a thumb left over.

Turns out that I still have one of those comics - an oversized Batman published in 1976. It collected various stories by some classic Batman artists, and the final story was drawn by Neal Adams. It's funny how it came to me. I was getting ready for bed, and I was going to read the aforementioned Batman collection when it suddenly hit me that one of those stories might have been drawn by Neal Adams. I then went out into the garage and dug it up.

Me and Neal Adams
I don't have a lot of vivid memories of my hospital experience, and I'm fairly certain that it was more of a trauma on my parents than it ever was on me. But when I confirmed that he drew one of those stories, something came crawling out of my deep subconscious. You can ask my wife - I just sat there at the edge of my bed, crying. I didn't have a total breakdown, but I just couldn't stop the tears from flowing.

What's probably obvious is that I decided that particular comic was one that I needed to get signed by him, as old and beat-up as it is. Since I wanted to get at least one nice-looking book signed by him, I opted for a Green Lantern collection that I owned which collected the entire Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, including the one that I had received when I was a kid. I also got a third signature when I bought one of his art prints, which is now framed and hanging on the wall near my son's room.

What was cool about that event is that he really took the time to talk to all of the fans. It made the line move a little slower (not too much of a problem since my ticket got me priority placement) but it was worth it, as it was enjoyable to listen to him talk and tell stories to the people in front of me. What was also nice was that I got a chance to tell him about how I got that particular comic book. (That's me telling him about it in the picture.)

He's also kind of a salty guy, to say the least. You can check out the video with Joe Field interviewing him. (Field is a former radio guy, so he knows how to conduct an interview. It's definitely worth watching if you're a fan.)

George O'Connor signing what may
or may not have been my copy of Zeus.
The most recent meeting with a professional took me out of my neighborhood and into San Francisco on the 6th of February. By some random chance, I stumbled across the fact that George O'Connor was going to be doing a signing at Isotope Comics. O'Connor has been doing an excellent series of books entitled Olympians where in each one, he focuses on a specific Greek god or goddess. So far, he has released volumes for: Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. They've all been really great, as it's clear that while his focus is on making the stories fun and accessible, he's also done his homework and knows the material. Each volume has been pretty good, with Hera probably being my favorite one so far (and his too, as I found out when I got to meet him).

While I had to go out of my way to this signing, it was definitely worth the trip. Isotope is a pretty cool comic book store, as it's basically set up as a lounge where customers are encouraged to kick back, read, and hang out a bit. There's even an upstairs area with a bunch of underground ashcan comics and a couch. Another cool thing is the wall of toilet lids with drawings by various artists and writers who have visited the store, including: Jim Lee and Warren Ellis (off the top of my head).

O'Connor's rendition of Aphrodite
There wasn't a very big crowd for this one, so it was nice that I got to take the time to talk with O'Connor about mythology and his creative process. I felt like I was getting a bit of an education while I was there.

One of the more interesting twists to the stories he's retold include the notion that perhaps Persephone wasn't entirely unwilling when she went down to the Underworld to serve as the Queen of Hades. Another was that the rivalry between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite in the "Judgment of Paris" wasn't just about a beauty contest.

Both of these interpretations are grounded in a careful study of the available sources, and O'Connor also manages to crystallize some aspects of these myths that seem pretty obvious when they're pointed out but may not have occurred to you otherwise. One of these is the fact that Hera is cool because she's the only being who scares Zeus. Another one is that the reason why Heracles' name means "the glory of Hera" is because if it wasn't for her working so hard to completely ruin his life, he wouldn't have had an existence filled with challenges - and this wouldn't have given him a reason to show how great he is. It's one of those "God(dess) works in mysterious ways" sorts of things. (I still feel bad for the guy.)

The really cool thing about meeting O'Connor is not just that he signed all six volumes of the series for me, but he also drew a sketch on each one of them. Even better, for each volume, he'd give you a choice between a few different characters. Needless to say, these books, which were already pretty important to my collection of not only comics but works on mythology, have become even greater prized possessions. Check out the sketches:

Aphrodite for her eponymous volume.

Cronus for the Son of Cronus

Beastiality is bad - The Minotaur for the Poseidon volume.

She's my favorite of all the deities, so I went for Athena.

Persephone and her Pomegranate from Hades

The Glory of Hera - Heracles (Hercules to you rubes out there.)

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