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.”