Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Cookies

This is a silly little story but I like it.

Amanda’s mother hosted a party on Christmas Eve. We all had a very nice time, enjoyed tasty food and good company. On the way home we stopped to pick up a cake ordered for our own family gathering on Christmas day. The bakery we use is called Big Joy Family and it’s our favorite in San Diego. We happened upon the place quite by accident a couple of years ago, it being next to a Vietnamese restaurant we go to from time to time. Whenever we have a family function Big Joy Family is our go to place for cakes. All of which really has nothing to do with this story except for my own self-serving motivations; I really would be sad to see them go out of business.

Anyway, I walk into the bakery, leaving Amanda and the boys in the car. The woman who runs the place goes to the back to get our cake. She brings it out, beautifully decorated. As I’m about to turn and leave she offers me Christmas cookies for Alex and Sam. Once back in the car I tell the boys the nice lady from the bakery gave me cookies and they could have them for dessert when we get home. Which reminds me of something. I tell Amanda we need to stop on the way to get cookies for Santa. Sam is two and didn’t pay it any mind. Alex, on the other hand, is six and took note of what I said. He thought about it a bit and then, in a very serious voice, volunteers to give up his Christmas sugar cookie so Santa could have it. Amanda and I looked at each other and smiled. I told him it was okay, we would stop at the supermarket near our house so Santa could have his own cookies.

It was a holiday filled with many wonderful moments but I think this was my favorite.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tis The Season: Christmas Themed Original Art

It’s Christmas Eve and I thought I’d share a few pieces of art that touch upon the holiday.

First up is a Chuck Jones storyboard from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, adapted from the classic Dr. Seuss tale. This is the moment when the Grinch discovers the meaning of Christmas. Love them stars!Bil Keane’s Family Circus has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Sure the strip is corny, but it also has a genuine warmth that appeals to me. Several of my friends also appreciate my fondness for Keane’s work--because it gives them endless opportunities to mock me. This particular daily reminds me of my son, Sam.Dan DeCarlo, to me, was the quintessential Betty & Veronica artist. He was to Archie what Jack Kirby was to Marvel and Carl Barks was to Ducks. This cover showcases his wonderful sense of humor. Dan was a real character, he always reminded me of the guy who would chase the secretary around a desk at the company Christmas party. But I imagined that if he caught her he’d talk about his wife, Josie. I miss Dan; he was a terrific guy.Reid Fleming, the World’s Toughest Milkman, isn’t generally associated with Christmas; David Boswell, in his unique way, manages to capture the spirit of the season.Dick Moores stepped into some big shoes when he took over Gasoline Alley from Frank King. A lesser talent would have stumbled along; Moores danced to a different tune but it was nearly as beautiful.Here's a nice piece of art that my best friend, Shawn McManus, did for me nearly 20 years ago. It’s one of a series of original art ads that ran in the Comics Buyers Guide. I wish the scan did the delicate line work justice.If you feel like exploring more original comic art, holiday themed or not, check out comicartfans; it's a great way to pass an hour or two.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday and a fine new year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Godson

In the early 1980s, when I was 19, I lived in New York City on the Upper East Side. Like so many people who make their living in this business, at one time I had a job in a comic book store. The name was Action Comics and it was on Second Avenue between 84th and 85th streets. It was a fairly new business and I was the only employee aside from Stephen, the owner. I had already started dealing a bit in original art and one of the perks of working at the shop was being able to display and sell art.

One day a teenager walks in, maybe 13 or 14, and we start talking about comic art. He was a smart kid, I sort of remember him being better dressed than the usual comic fans. He had come in before and liked some of the art that was hanging in the poster rack and now wanted to buy some. He picked out a page or two and paid with $50 bills. It didn’t strike me as odd because this was an affluent neighborhood and it wasn’t out of the norm for kids to have that kind of cash, usually from birthdays or bar Mitzvahs. Over the next couple of weeks he came in a few times and bought more art.

A couple of days after the kid’s last purchase I was in the shop and the phone rang. A woman’s voice that seemed vaguely familiar came over the line and asked to speak with Scott. I told her I was Scott and she said, “Hi, Scott, this is Shelley Winters.” I recognized the voice as soon as she said her name. It was a surreal moment, I had never talked to an Academy Award winning actress before, let alone have one call me. I said hello Ms. Winters and asked what I could do for her. She asked me if her godson had been coming in to the store to buy art and paying with $50 bills. I said, “Why yes, he has been.” Sounding relieved, she said “Oh good. He’s been stealing that money from me but I was afraid he was buying drugs.” We talked for a few more minutes, about her godson. He was a good kid, she said, but he needed a friend. She asked me if I could take him to a baseball game sometime, do something with him. I politely declined; he seemed like a nice boy but I was 19 and had a girlfriend and didn’t want to hang out with a kid.

I never heard from Shelley Winters or her godson again. Their story became one of a number of anecdotes I would tell to friends from time to time. But these things have a limited shelf life; new stories gradually made their way to the front of my mind and I told this one less and less. Eventually it fell out of the rotation entirely. I didn’t give Shelley Winters and her godson much thought at all for a very long time, until I saw this blog by Dean Haspiel.

As I read about the death of Dean’s godmother I put two and two together; he was the boy who bought the art from me all those years ago. I felt sad for his loss but couldn’t help but be amused by the revelation. I told my pal Heidi MacDonald about it and we shared a laugh. It wasn’t the kind of story I would widely spread, it didn’t exactly cast Dean in the best light, but it was okay between a couple of discreet friends.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Heidi and I were once again talking, I was filling her in on my soon-to-be-launched blog. Immediately she said I should run the Dean Haspiel/Shelley Winters story. I wasn’t so sure. I had already decided not to recount anything that would hurt someone’s feelings or damage a reputation; I felt this fell into both categories. Heidi told me that Dean had a good sense of humor and he would find it funny. Since a fair amount of time had passed since his godmother’s death, I decided it couldn’t hurt to give him a ring.

I called Dean and we had a brief chat, got reacquainted. Dean and I don’t know each other very well but we had spoken a couple of years ago about a project at WS. While the book didn’t work out we parted on good terms. Then I dove in and told him about my blog--and that one of the stories I was toying with writing involved him. Understandably, he was surprised; as I said, we don’t have a lot of history together. I tentatively asked Dean if he remembered that we had met before, many years ago in New York. He did not. I asked if he remembered Action Comics. He vaguely did. I asked if he remembered buying some comic art there when he was a kid. He thought about it and said he never had. He said it in such a way that it left little room for doubt. Now I was perplexed; it’s one thing to not recall something, it’s another to be sure you didn’t do it. I laid all my cards on the table. None of it sounded familiar to him…until I got to the part about Shelly Winters and her godson. That triggered a realization; Dean hadn’t been that young boy who so worried his godmother--it was his brother, Mike.

Dean told me about Mike, how he had been stricken with Juvenile Diabetes at a young age and had experimented with a variety of drugs. Hence the phone-call from Ms. Winters; She really was relieved to hear he had bought art with the money instead of drugs. I asked how his brother was doing. Dean told me he had passed away a couple of years ago from complications of his condition, with his history of drug abuse being a contributing factor.

I told Dean I was sorry if this brought back any painful memories but he said it was okay. He had never heard the story before and he said it made his brother come alive for him again, if only for an instant; he was grateful for that. Then Dean asked if I would run the story in my blog. I told him I didn’t think so, that before it was just some goofy little story with a happy ending. Now it was something else entirely. Dean said he’d be okay with me writing it up if I wanted to. We left it at me seeing if I could manage to do it in a way I thought was appropriate. I had my doubts.

Last week I got an e-mail from Dean. He told me he had been reading my blog and liked it. Then he asked if I planned on running the anecdote or if it was canned. I thought about it a bit and wrote back saying I would give it a shot; if I was happy with the results I would send it to him. He replied, “Yeah, take a crack at it and see what you can come up with. No need to play it too safe…Just be kind and fair.”

So I started writing. I don’t know how happy I am with the way this has turned out but, if Dean agrees, I will post it. I can’t help feeling guilty. I know that probably sounds odd, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just taken Mike out to Yankee Stadium on the #4 train and watched a couple of games.

Mike and Dean Haspiel, circa early 1970s

The last photo of the Haspiel Brothers

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Me, Mignola, And The Corpse

In the early 90s Mike Mignola and I used to go out to lunch on a fairly regular basis. At one point neither of us were able to get together for five or six weeks but we still talked often enough. In that span of time Mike was working on a 24 page Hellboy story that was going to be serialized in the old Capital City order form (anyone remember when we used to have more than one distributor?), two pages monthly for a year.

When Mike and I talked he would go on about how very badly the story was coming. Week after week I’d hear about his career being finished; not only was this the worst thing he had ever done but he was sure he’d completely lost his ability to draw. Bear in mind that this went on every couple of nights for about six weeks. All the relentless negative reinforcement eventually wore me down. By the time we were going to get together for our long-overdo lunch I was convinced; I knew the story would be bad, I just hoped I would be able to find something--anything--positive to say.

We met at a natural food place down on Spring Street and Mike handed me a manila envelope with a stack of lettered copies in it. “Here, read it,” he said. So I read it. And as I did, Mike sat across from me sweating. When I finished I started to laugh. He looked at me with something close to terror in his eyes. Mike has a very expressive voice, there really isn’t any way to describe it; you need to hear it to understand, especially when he’s doing his characters. Anyone who has spoken to him for more than five minutes knows what I mean. Now, in panic mode, his voice was something akin to a high-pitched shriek. “What’s wrong?!” he asked. “You,” I said. “Why?!” “Because”, I told him, “you are a $%#@ing idiot.” “WHHYYY?!” he cried. “Because not only is this the best story you’ve ever done but it is probably the best story you will ever do.” Mike sat back in his seat and in a voice calm and sure, and with no room for doubt, said “You’re nuts.”

We sat there and ate lunch and disagreed on the story. Me telling him it was brilliant, him saying I was crazy and that is was awful. I even tried to buy the art from him (for my collection) but Mike felt it was so bad he didn’t want to foist it on anyone. He wasn’t fishing for praise; Mike honestly thought it was the worst thing he had ever done and that he had lost any meager talent once possessed. But, of course, he was wrong. The story in question was The Corpse and I still think it’s the best job Mike has ever done.

Years pass. Mike and Christine (who, by the way, is as benevolently patient a wife as my own) moved to the west coast. I did too shortly after, but further south. Mike and I didn’t talk as much after we left New York but we’d catch up when our paths crossed. One year, at the Chicago comic convention, I was with Mike and a few other people at the hotel bar. We’re all talking about various topics and suddenly he says, “The best story I ever did was The Corpse.” I remember being surprised as I said “The Corpse? When I told you that was the best thing you ever did you said I was crazy.” Mike looked at me, as calm and sure and matter of fact as he was at our lunch in New York, and said “Craig Russell told me it was the best story I ever did.”

A few years ago I was sitting in my (now former) office at WildStorm and Mike called me up out of the blue. He said that I was the first person to tell him how good The Corpse was and he wanted to thank me. He said he’d like to give me a page of my choice from the story. It was a wonderful act of kindness and I was touched. I asked if I could think about it and call him in a day or two; this would be a tough decision to make. He said sure. A few days later I called Mike back and asked about a couple of pages, specifically the ones with the mother and baby at the beginning of the story. It turned out he had traded those, of course, to Craig Russell. My alternatives were the pages with Jenny Greenteeth stealing the Corpse’s arm. Mike had both but I couldn’t make up my mind which to choose, the consecutive pair made such a great sequence. I asked if he would consider selling me the second one so I could have the scene in its entirety. Mike, in a slightly grumpy voice, tells me he’ll just give me both pages. I ask him if he’s sure, that I’d be happy to pay for the second page. He says no, that he’ll give me both. I thank him for his great generosity and ask that he remember to inscribe them to me. To which Mike, in a classic Mignola curmudgeon moment, says, “Inscribe them? Won’t that make it more difficult to SELL them?!”

Less than a week later a package arrived with the two pages inside. They were beautiful. And Mike did go ahead and put an inscription after all: “To Scott--with great appreciation--Mignola.” Oh well, guess I’m stuck with them now.

The Corpse by Mike Mignola

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cheap At Twice The Price

As a comic art dealer I would occasionally buy entire collections, sometimes hundreds of pieces at a time. There would usually be a few pages that weren’t the most desirable to collectors: not having main characters, be drawn by a less than stellar artist, that sort of thing. Eventually I had a fair sized stack of these, my own little Island of Misfit Art that never got put out for sale at any of the shows. So, as a goof, I started taking a few of these pages to conventions and mixing them into the stacks of art that weren’t in display portfolios. On the back of these, where I’d normally write the price in pencil, I’d scribble “FREE” on them. From time to time someone would happily come up to me and claim their “purchase.”

Once, during a slow stretch at a convention, I noticed a guy looking through a pile of art. He was very deliberate as he scanned over each page and then turned them over to check the price. Bored, I watched for a few minutes until he got to the free page. He picked it up and gave it the once over. Then, like all the others, he looked at the back of the page for the damage. He stopped for a minute...and then he put it back in the pile and continued on with his meticulous inspection. Guess he just thought it was overpriced…