Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hold The Ham

Back in the early 90s I was still in New York City and making my living as a comic art dealer. One day I got a call from an editor at Marvel Comics who was trying to help a young freelancer find an agent to sell his originals. The artist was new to comics and didn’t know the ins and outs of the business. The editor, wanting to help a raw newbie out, contacted Al Williamson (whom he had worked with) to see if he could recommend a dealer that would treat the guy right. Al suggested me, which was why I got the call. The editor spoke in glowing terms of the artist; he had a lot of potential, if he worked hard he could make a name for himself. I told the editor I’d be happy to look at his work and said “What’s this kids name?” The editor replied, “Stan Drake.” A bit surprised, I asked if he had ever met the young Mr. Drake in person or if their dealings were exclusively on the phone and through the mail. It was the latter. Which made sense. For those of you who have never heard of the great Stan Drake, he began his career a number of years before I, or his editor, were born. But, while Mr. Marvel may not have been up on his comic history, his heart was very much in the right place.

Which reminds me of a story from roughly the same time, one that peripherally involves Stan Drake. I was meeting a fellow comic art dealer by the name of Al Czarnecki. Al is one of the good guys in comic art, a straight shooter. Anyway, Al had bought 600 Heart of Juliet Jones strips and asked if I would be interested in going in for half. It’s not every day you are offered 300 Stan Drake strips at a good price so I readily accepted. The plan was for Al to come in from New Jersey with the art and we would meet at a local Brew & Burger to have lunch and finalize the deal. A Brew and Burger, for those who have never been to one, is pretty much what it sounds like: A coffee shop with dark wood.

So Al and I meet at B & B, both armed with portfolios, and sit down in a roomy booth—the better to spread out big piles of art. The waiter comes over to take our order and Al goes first. When it’s my turn I ask for a grilled cheese sandwich with fries. At the time I was a vegetarian, had been for about a year and a half after reading a book called Diet For A New America. Not being a salad guy this was pretty much my default diner meal. Should be pretty simple, never had a problem with it before or after. Except this time the waiter says “We don’t do that.” I look up at him, not getting what he means, and ask what they don’t do. He says “Grilled cheese sandwiches, we don’t do that.” I laugh and say something along the lines of “Come on, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.” Again, he says no, they don’t do that. So I open up the menu and scan the sandwich listings. Finding what I want I say, “Give me the grilled ham and cheese…” I waited a beat as he dutifully scribbled it down “…hold the ham.” I swear, he nearly doubled over. He raised his voice and said emphatically “We don’t do that!” He then went into this odd little tirade saying he had traveled all over the world, he had been to France and eaten butter on sandwiches—whatever that meant. I felt like I had wandered into an outtake from Five Easy Pieces. I looked at him and said, “Just go over to the cook and give him the order, he’ll make it.” Brew & Burger had one of those traditional diner set-ups, an open view to the kitchen and the spinning wheel where tickets are hung. Our server indignantly marches over to the wheel and says in a voice that got louder as he spoke “There’s some guy out here who wants a grilled ham and cheese…WITHOUT THE HAM!!” To which the cook evenly replies, “A grilled cheese sandwich, no problem.”

81 comments:

Rick M said...

I was in a diner with a friend in Saratoga, NY, a few years ago and had almost the exact same experience. She was a vegetarian, asked for a grilled cheese sandwich, etc. For me, the funniest part about this post is the knowledge that there are at least two people in the world telling almost exactly same story without ever having met each other.

Excellent.

Chris said...

And I love that standard waiter response. "We don't do that." Oh, shut up. Yes you do. It's grilled cheese. If you grill cheese on top of other stuff, you can clearly grill it on its own. And the cook's response was priceless.

Another great anecdote.

Kurt Busiek said...

Another Drake story:

Stan was doing some work for Marvel's THE DESTROYER Magazine, and had a bunch of "Handbook" style pages of Remo Williams, Chun and others that he was to ink, penciled by James Fry. Unfortunately, Stan had some health troubles, and wound up in the hospital for a few days.

When he got out, he called the editor to talk about deadlines and what he could and couldn't do given the time constraints. Apologetically, he said that while he was in the hospital, his friend Billy had decided to help him out, to help him meet his deadlines, and had inked the James Fry pages, he hoped it wasn't a problem.

The editor swallowed hard and said, "Your...friend Billy inked the pages?"

"Yes," said Stan. "I think you know him. Billy Sienkiewicz?"

The editor breathed a long sigh of relief and said no problem, that would be just fine...

kdb

Scott Dunbier said...

Ha, great story, Kurt!

Can I talk you into sharing that other very brief but very funny one?

Kurt Busiek said...

Sure. There is a Marvel editor of the 1980s who once asked, at a convention dinner, "Did Steve Ditko do anything for Marvel before ROM?"

I am told the editor said this in the presence of Alex Toth, and proceeded to be berated at length, but I didn't hear that from the one person I know who was there at the time, so I tend to write that off as exaggeration.

And it doesn't need it. The question alone is enough, all by itself.

kdb

Neil Hill said...

Now THIS is how you tell a great story! Thanks for the rib-tickler. That waiter was a straight-up, no holds barred ass. :-)

Oh, and what did this story have to do with art again? (kidding)

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