The Asbury Park 2013 Comic Con: Personal POVs from Those Who Create, Breathe and Love ComicsA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
The tall, thin Comic Convention predator stood in the midst of the ramp leading up to Asbury Comic Convention floor.
He angled in at me as if I were carrion on a desert landscape, except we were in a crowded space, but he'd spotted me with as sure an eye as a vulture circling above.
I had not done a comic convention in almost two years.
This person with zealous light in his eyes had been at the last two I'd done in about 4 to 5 years. I don't do many Cons these days.
At a Manhattan Con, he'd come up with a group of people, grabbed a copy of SABRE from my table-top, and then started to harangue me about copy placement in one panel.
One panel, mind you!
One panel from all of my work over the years, and he was insulting and rude, and I sat there, looking up into the obsessive glare in his eyes.
You wonder if this is one of the ones who come to public pop culture places to destroy rather than create, who give the media lurid headlines to get people to their websites, or buy their newspapers, or help get sponsors for their nightly news channel.
The next time I met the cadaverous convention haunt I was up at the Bronx Heroes Comic Con where Mark Mazz and Ray Flex presented me with a unfurled poster with my name 9 feet tall. What an incredibly wonderful gesture on their part. I have had so many people express what my books have meant to them over the years that I could never have imagined as I was writing them.
But then, here was this haunt again, leaning over the table, getting in my face about this panel again. I spoke to him about this one panel, told him I thought it interesting that you could it read two ways, and either way, it worked, just with a different impact. This seemed to incense him that I had a reason for it, and defended my work.
And now he strides right up to me. I haven't even reached the top of the ramp. I can see the crowds milling about, and hope that is a good sign for Cliff Galbraith, who is putting on the convention.
Dave Smith is helping me with the books I'm bringing to the Con, and the Comics Bulletin and Riding Shotgun circulars, and the first public showing of Trevor von Eeden's art on Sabre: the Early Future Years! He's travelled all the way from Jersey to Brooklyn and is turning right around to drive back to Jersey with me. I enjoyed talking life and comics with Dave as we made the drive over the majestic Verrazano Bridge.
The stalker's first words are, "I'm going to be at your table about that panel, get ready for it!"
You try nice and it doesn't work, you have to go the other way.
I guess I just have less tolerance for this kind of abuse than I used to.
I turned sharply, looked up at him, seeing the smirk on his face and said, in a voice loud enough to be heard distinctly even in a comic con crowd, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!" and whirled and walked away, as the smirk left the gaunt predator's face.
Fortunately, this was not a harbinger of things to come for the day.
Don McGregor with Convention Organizer Robert Bruce
Without Dave Smith's help, I'd never have gotten the poster up with my name on it. As I joked that day, and told Mark Mazz, who is soft-spoken, kind, intelligent and compassionate, "Mark, you have my name 9 feet tall. You do realize I only stand 5 feet 4 inches tall, right? How am I…HOW AM IIIIII….going to get that poster put up." Well, that time it was with Mark's help, this time because of Dave.
I carefully set up the 5 copies of Trevor von Eeden art that I'd had made on cardstock the day before. This was the first time the audience in the outside world would see pages of Sabre: the Early Future Years. This is the first I would speak directly about Jason Sacks's ambitious goal to make the graphic novel a reality and showcase the graphic novel I've now spent seven years of my life with.
I placed some copies of The Variable Syndrome beside Trevor's art. I found a box of the books stored in the closet for decades. For over three decades I guess I never looked at the closet door floor under the clothes, because I'd forgotten I'd had them. The books were essentially in the box Dave Kraft must have sent them to me back when The Variable Syndrome was first published. There are very few of copies left.
An artist can sell drawings at a Con; it's hard for a writer to sell a paragraph.
No matter how much they love the words, I've never had anyone come up and ask, "Write me a paragraph and autograph it."
Jon B. Cooke, who apparently likes to have the "B" in there, was at the table beside me selling his Blu-Ray documentary of Will Eisner, among new books he has happening on Jack Kirby, and one I glimpsed on Quality Comics.
I don't do many Comic Cons these days. When I do, though, one of my concerns when I am setting the table up for the day is my hope I will have the same energy through-out the day, for each individual who comes up to me, that I can give the person or people I see in the morning the same attention and focus in the afternoon. Even if I'm being asked the same question for the tenth time, my desire is that the answer is for that person alone, and retains the focus I had earlier in the day.
More difficult to do the older I get.
Whenever I do a Con, I have a number of people who call me a "legend." I often wonder if that means they thought I was dead.
Lloyd Kaufman used to call me "the great Don McGregor, a legend."
To which I would reply, "Yeah. A legend looking for a gig."
That's the real truth.
I still use the line to this day.
A legend hoping as the Con starts that when people learn there is a Kickstarter project about to launch for Sabre will think, "About damn time!"
And embrace the idea of Trevor von Eeden and me working together, and those five pages of art samples awaiting judgment, hopefully a verdict of gleeful delight.
It would be nice to sell a few copies of The Variable Syndrome, bring a little money home. It would mean not only would Elena and the giant serpents with the window-like heads reach another reader, but also they would be able to read "Investigating Detectives Inc., about the Work For Hire Contracts that the big comics companies demanded all writers and artists sign in the early 1980s. There was no option. Sign that contract saying we own everything, or you don't work. When I didn't sign it, my wife, Marsha, was pregnant with our son, Rob.
The Variable Syndrome has the only version of this historical piece, from my point of view, written at the time it happened, of my son's birth.
Someone cut it from later versions.
You have some idea now what happens behind the table at a Comic Convention.
This isn't going to be just my POV of this convention, though.
I met a number of interesting people who have devoted much of their lives to comics in various ways. I had this thought: why not let them put in print what they told me at the Convention. This way, the words and the thoughts don't get lost, and they are not me merely trying to paraphrase them.
This approach would have an immediacy and intimacy that would allow people who weren't there an inside view of what a writer can experience inside a Con. I included the opening bit with the predator because it happened, and to the kind of unexpected verbal assaults you might encounter to juxtapose with heart-felt memories and testaments on the other hand.
One of the things I had discussed with Cliff Galbraith, when he first talked with me over the phone about doing this Con is that there would be cameras there filming. Jason Sacks wanted video for the Kickstarter program, and told me what he thought I needed to convey in such a piece. The problem was I didn't have any camera equipment at my immediate need. I know I could have called Paul Scrabo, who helped me so much with finishing pieces and did the Detectives Inc. movie trailer.
But I hated to call Paul when I hadn't talked with him in so long and ask for a favor. I'm certain Paul would have helped, if he could, because he's one of the kindest people I know, and he knows more about digital filming than I ever will. Still, I'd rather make a phone call just to talk than to have to ask a favor. But in talking with Cliff, it occurred to me that if I was there, and the cameras were there, this could give Jason what he felt he needed, and I could help kick this Kickstarter into gear. I asked Cliff about it, and he thought something could be worked out.
Jim Salicrup, Don McGregor and Dean Haspiel
The day of the con was so hectic for Cliff that after heading toward my table I scarcely saw him again until leaving. I gave him copies of Trevor's five Sabre pages.
In the meantime, within a couple of hours of being at the table, Donald Lanouette from ucreatecomics.com appeared on the other side. He is working on filming a piece about How to Break into Writing Comics. Don asked if I would consent to film an interview with him during the Con.
Waitaminnit! You have to seize the moment, once you realize the moment is there.
I told Don I'd be more than happy to do the interview for him, but could he do me a favor?
He asked what, and I showed him Trevor's art, and explained that one of the things holding the Kickstarter project up was getting a video for it.
"I do the interview for you. You do this for me."
Don was great. He nodded, and we agreed we'd meet again later in the day and do the filming.
All right! Mission accomplished!
Now, if only I could remember half what Jason Sacks wrote I should cover in about a minute and a half. I had his letter with me, but I'm no good at memorizing lines, except for writers who really affected my life over the years.
I had already met a number of people, who were enthusiastically genuine, and glad to be there. Larry Shell had written to me on Facebook that he would be at the con, and he came and sat by me for a while. Larry is one of the good guys, who appreciate the creators who love comics enough to give each story everything they have as a writer.
I hope listening to me tell stories for so long didn't bore the hell out of him.
Before Larry left, some banners nearly came tumbling down; there were a few moments of chaos. I'd been telling a story; I didn't know what the hell was going on, but the banners got grabbed before they could blanket the people behind them. We did not realize that the seat Larry had been sitting on had had a box on it because it needed the weight to keep the huge banners flying, and when that weight wasn't there, the banners were threatening to bury all our heads.
Jon B. Cooke and Don McGregor
Except to go to the bathroom, I was pretty much seated behind the table. But I met Bill Cucinotta of co2comics.con who has just come out with a beautiful volume of Dave Kraft's Comics Interview. Bill wasn't aware that at some point I have a four-part interview in the magazine. "The interview that wouldn't die or end", Dave wrote at the time.
At the time, when I met Bill and Don, I hadn't had any idea of writing a piece like this. That came on Monday. It takes a while for ideas to strike me. A kind of delayed lightning.
When finally the idea did come, I wrote Don and Bill and others you are about to read if they'd like to contribute and write some of the things they talked about during the Con.
They kindly consented, and wrote much more than I'd ever have asked of them.
So, take it away, Bill Cuccinotta:
Back in the day, in the early '80s, I was addicted to tights. I had to buy every Marvel and DC comic that came out and would chase them down from newsstand to newsstand and eventually to a comic book store that just opened.
I had a budget. I would spend $10 a week for comics. At the time $10 would buy a lot of comics. I don't think there was a week during my addiction that I did not spend every penny of the weekly budget.
One day, I walked into the comic book store in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood, and it was as if the clouds parted and a beacon was shining on 1 single comic displayed on the wall. "Wall books" were the expensive collectible books.
Commanding my attention, more than any other book in the store was a copy of Sabre, the original 1st edition with a sepia tone cover, for $10. I was mesmerized and had to have it, so I gladly sacrificed my whole weekly comic budget just to possess it.
This wasn't just a comic, it was a STORY, it wasn't just a story, it was EPIC.
I had plenty of exposure to other non-superhero comics, ECs, undergrounds, Star Reach, and I couldn't get enough. The tights were wearing thin.
Sabre had an impact on me. Sabre and Detectives Inc., paved the way for me as I realized "Comics could be so much better". Marvel and DC were no longer the only game in town and the dream of publishing comics was becoming a reality. The seed was planted.
There have been many other sources of comic book inspiration for me, but none as profound as Don McGregor and Eclipse showing a boy from Philly, that publishing comics was possible, and from that moment, on that day, when I spent my entire weekly budget of $10 on a wall book… Don McGregor, Sabre and Eclipse have been the inspiration that motivated me to publish and keeps me passionate about publishing today.
Here's what moves me most about what Bill has written.
The past couple of years I've had some health problems, and I'm not sure where that is heading even as I write. Marsha was in the hospital half of last year, and I never thought what is happening to her, could happen. She's too vibrant, too unconventional, too good a human being for me to think what has happened to her could happen.
When you are feeling sick, when those you love are also afflicted, there is a sense of mortality. Bill's words move me because it's a confirmation that some people remember what you did WHEN. I think the "when" is important. There were stands I took when it certainly wasn't fashionable to do so.
And the comics medium did not reward you for it; more they viewed you with, in the least damning sense, skepticism.
And many thought you were damn straight crazy!
It's heartening to know that some people haven't forgotten the when.
After Larry Shell left Michael Feldman asked if he could use the chair behind the table, since the banners behind me had been taken down.
Michael said he had a story to tell me.
The following…is that story.
The First Time I Met Don McGregor
I first met Don McGregor at a Creation Comic Convention in the Spring of 1978. He was just hanging out at what I guess was the Eclipse table in a side alcove at the show. I told him I had read his "Killraven" and "Black Panther" work and because of that I had pre-ordered a copy of this new-fangled "graphic novel" thing, Sabre.
He told to me to hold on one second, dove behind the table and presented me my copy of Sabre that was specially signed by both him and the artist, Paul Gulacy. How was that for service? Hand delivered by the author!
Then he told me to hold on again, as he had something else to show me that no one else had yet seen...
Don then pulled out these old fashioned, large sized art boards that had the pencilled artwork of a new graphic novel he was working on with Marshall Rogers. These were the pages for what would be the first Detectives Inc. graphic novel, "A Remembrance of Threatening Green". I had never held original art pages in my hands before this. It was like looking at the Rosetta Stone and finally understanding the basic language of how comics came to be! I looked at page after page of it. Some was already lettered, but I was just so awed and amazed by what I held in my hands and was looking at that I lost my "comic book sense" and couldn't read it.
Cut to 2013 and Don posts on his Facebook page that he is going to be at the Asbury Park Comic Con. It's a small one-day show down on the Jersey shore and Don's presence there is the icing on the cake to make it a worthwhile show for me to attend. So I drive down the Garden State Parkway and arrive at the Convention Hall. I walk in and arbitrarily head to the right side and the first row. Several tables down, there was Don with a fan sitting next to him and several in front listening to him telling stories from all over his career.
When the gentleman next to Don got up to depart, I asked if it was alright if I sat down next to him as, for a change of pace, instead of Don telling us a story, I had one to share with him. As I settled in to my seat and took out my original copies of Sabre (with the original flyer in it for Dragonflame that told us to buy that book or the comic book industry would shoot the author!) and Detectives, Inc.
I told Don the story of our first meeting.
And this meeting, at Asbury Park, lasted six hours.
Michael Feldman and Don McGregor
Whenever I am signing books to an individual, I try to latch onto something they've said or done that I can use to personalize the book, to hopefully give them the moment when they had the book signed. I might not remember it a year later, hell, even a month later, but as long as it brings back a memory that they can recall fondly, that's all I'm hoping.
I try to do the same when someone orders The Variable Syndrome to me through Messages on Facebook.
It's just trying to stay alive financially as a story-teller, but not selling out the writing, or why you tell the stories, or what the story should be.
Mike went above and beyond the call of duty; he stayed at the table so I didn't have to be concerned about what I was going to do to protect those books and the copies of Trevor von Eeden's Sabre: the Early Future Years art.
I could take my time while Donald Lanouette filmed me doing an interview with his partner, Doug.
I had to run back to the table between setting up for the Kickstarter promo. I was getting incredible dry-mouth. Some would say it's from talking too much, but really it's a side problem to some medication I'm taking. I was starting to feel dizzy, when I reached the table and gulped down some water. Michael was still there, holding the fort.
I went back and we filmed the piece for Kickstarter. I have no idea how it went. I had taken Jason's notes with me, and glanced at them before we started, trying to refresh my memory on what he felt was needed.
And then did it.
The time comes, you either do it, or you don't.
And you do the best you can.
I thanked everyone at ucreatecomics.com, and here's a quick response Donald Lanouette wrote to me.
It was great meeting you, including us in your column would be fantastic, I will have something for you and send... we are still in New York visiting comic stores, I will be home on Friday and will download and edit your interview and your Kickstarter video by Monday... Pop me an email with the contact you want me to set up the download with and I will cc you when I send.
David Smith was back, and I think Dave knew I was losing my energy. Dave went off somewhere, and when he came back, he brought me some food, and a vitamin drink. Believe me, I needed it.
I gave Dave a set of the Trevor von Eeden Sabre pages for coming to get me, bearing with me through the gauntlet with the predator haunt, and going out of his way to find me something to eat.
Dave, you're the legend as far as I'm concerned.
I may have already written how I have so many readers whose reactions to the books and to me have been so kind.
Nick Katradis travelled an hour and half to come meet me in Asbury. We talked about his love for comic art, and how he got started in loving comics.
But in keeping with the tone of this piece, let's read it in Nick's own words:
First, I want to tell you how you made my day meeting you on Saturday.
You and Steve Englehart are my all time favorite writers from my youth.
And you are still going strong writing. I can't wait to read your new comic book with Trevor!
I drove over 1 hr and 15 minutes just to meet you. Thank god for Facebook.
I saw your post on Facebook the night before the Con, that you were going to be there and I went to their website within minutes and booked myself and my son Peter a ticket.
Even when my son said no to going on Sunday morning, my wife Demi said to me "Go, I can tell you really want to go to this thing", and I came.
I can't believe you live in the area, where I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s, in Mill Basin nearby.
Let me know when your Kickstarter project starts. I will contribute to it of course.
This Saturday I'm going to dig up my Sabre and Detectives Inc comics, and re-read all your stories.
I can't wait to see you again. Let me know where and what upcoming convention you will be at so I can come and chat with you again.
See you soon
Nick Katradis and Don McGregor
Of course, you will note, I put the Kickstarter contribution in Bold. It is important to do so. This is a chance for a project that I have labored on for seven years to become a reality.
If it is successful, you may finally also get to see the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/a Repercussion of Violent Reprisal.
As some of you know, Bob Rainier's first line is: "So, let me see if I've got this straight? You want us to break into your apartment and steal all the porn you've printed off the Internet."
As someone at the Asbury Con said, "I'd buy that book."
Music to a storyteller's ears and brain.
Copyrght © 2013 by Don McGregor and the respective rights-holders.