Monday, October 12, 2015

Guest Post - Marvel-Con '76 Revisited





Doug: Today we welcome a new writer to our ranks. We were contacted by frequent reader but infrequent commenter Rob Anderson, who had a nerve struck by Colin Bray's guest post on the Marvel-Con '76 convention program. We'll let Rob explain, but I can say up front that you're in for another treat. Take it away, Rob!





Memories of Marvel-Con '76! 'Nuff said!

Rob Anderson: I read Colin Bray's recent post on the Marvel-Con '76 program with great interest -- because I was there, back in 1976! I still have my copy of that program. According to Wikipedia's 1976 in Comics, the event took place April 23–25 at the Hotel Commodore in New York City, making me ten-going-on-eleven.

At the time, my family lived in southern New Jersey, in a suburb of Philadelphia. We had recently moved from Michigan, leaving my one-and-only real-world comic book friend behind, and to say it was a bad time in my childhood would be an understatement. Comic books pretty much got me through it.

My step-father, whose job had led to the move, must have taken pity on me. To this day, I have no idea how he heard about the Marvel Con in New York City, but he suggested we all make the road trip up to it.

My memories from 39 years ago are somewhat dim, as you might expect, but my gratitude to my step-father for this experience remains, and there are a few things that still stand out. There were a lot of "firsts" for me at this con.

Back issues! Everywhere!

I know fellow BAB readers will remember the days of seeking back issues before eBay, mega-conventions, most comic shops, trade paperbacks, and... well... before everything, except issues with their covers torn off in bookstores, or the random flea market. Mail order was beyond my ten-year-old powers. I couldn't tell you how many dealers were there, or what they had, but I remember looking through back issues in a fevered state. Old comics! Right here, in one place! Whatever allowance I was given for the con was almost certainly spent here.

(Some things never change. At the Baltimore Comic-Con recently, my budget was blown on old DC treasuries for my nephews, and Kamandi Archive Editions for me.)

Meeting Creators (with a large dose of embarrassment)

My favorite comic-of-the-moment at that time was the Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man Treasury Edition, which hit stands in January of 1976. And my all-time favorite Spider-Man artist was John Romita, who was at the convention! I waited in line, and when I reached him, I mumbled a few words (at best) and offered up my Treasury, at which point Romita (kindly) said, "You know I didn't draw the story, right?"

By ten, I definitely understood that different people worked on different books -- I could tell the difference between my favorite FF artist, John Buscema, and the Kirby reprints in Marvel's Greatest Comics -- but it had literally never occurred to me that I should have Romita sign a Romita story! I just wanted him to sign my all-time favorite Spider-Man book.


I must have looked terribly stricken, and I'm sure I had no response at all. Thankfully, Romita saved me by pointing out he'd done the pin-up on the back cover, or else had some hand in it, and flipped it over and signed. You can still see the slightly smudged signature on my copy.

My First Panel... and a Revelation

I attended at least one panel, maybe more, and I'm fairly certain my memory is of the Roy Thomas panel; a page was devoted to Roy's panel in the '76 program. Seeing creators who made their living at comic books had a huge impact on me. Of course, I read Stan Lee's Soapbox and knew the creators were real people, but seeing them in person somehow made it MORE real.

The program states that Thomas would be teaching the audience how to write comics. I have no memory of the actual panel, but Roy signed the autograph page of my '76 Con program -- as you can see below. I can't help but think there's a straight line between that panel and my own comics writing thereafter, from the handwritten Iron Fist script I mailed in a couple years later, to my comics writing over the last few years.

That wasn't my last childhood epiphany at a convention, though. At a later con -- I suspect it was at Creation Con '79 in Philly --  another kid at a panel asked what was coming up in What If? The creator on stage (I honestly don't remember who) responded with "Who Cares?" The audience burst into laughter, as did I, but mine was embarrassed laughter, because I LOVED that book. Quite a shock to the system at the time... It had never occurred to me that creators might not LIKE some of the books they worked on.

Convention Swag! And Cosplay!

In April of 1976, Bicentennial fever was high, particularly in the Philly area. The program contained an advertisement for Kirby's Bicentennial Captain America treasury, facing the autograph page. And as many at BAB will recall, the Marvel Calendar that year was even Bicentennial themed.

I still have two buttons that I believe I picked up at the Marvel Con, and one was lifted straight from that calendar cover. They've held up pretty well, as you can see in the scan!

Marvel also had folks walking around in costume. If memory serves, someone was dressed up as Spider-Man, and I know for sure Captain America put in an appearance, because my younger brother's '76 program has a giant "autograph" from him as well.

I Found My People...

What I do remember clearly is the sheer joy I experienced at being in a big room filled with other people who loved comics as much as I did. I remember my mom looking around at the other adults with a jaundiced eye--lots of "hippy-types" and "nerds," I'm sure--but I felt like I'd found my people. I could someday be an ADULT who still read or maybe even created comics. And that was the most important thing I took home from that con.

P.S. The convention addiction had begun. I've also included the cover and an interior page from the Creation '79 con. The former, signed by Len Wein, the latter by Jim Shooter, who took the time to caption his photo with Will Eisner!

P.P.S. Now I'm wondering what seminal experiences other BAB's have from their own early convention days?



17 comments:

RobAnderson said...

Thanks, Doug, for letting me move from "lurking" to sharing some con memories. Seeing Colin's post about the '76 program book was fun, and I hope fellow BAB readers enjoy my meanderings a bit, too...

david_b said...

Whaaaat a fantastic post. To have someone who actually went, actually share about the experience.

Thanks soooo much Rob, incredible experience.., making such an incredible post today.

Humanbelly said...

Great reminiscences, Rob-!
Boy, big ol' points for your step-dad, too.

Man, Roy Thomas looked like he was about 17 years old, didn't he? And he had to be in his mid-30's at that point. And good on John R for figuring out how to gracefully pull you out of an awkward interaction, there. Ahhh, he had kids of his own. . . I'm sure he knew how things were. And this was before there was a broader understanding of "common" convention practices and etiquette.

HBSon was at the BaltimoreCon! He had a first-rate time-- mostly he just wandered around in his Rincewind the Wizard costume.

'76 was my first convention as well-- it was the first official Wizard Con in Chicago, held at the Playboy Towers hotel (for the first and only time). I would have been 15, and an older (extremely oddball and socially acerbic-- but true-blue) buddy drove us over to Chicago to attend. We ONLY hit the big dealer room. . . I didn't even know there were panels. . . and spent many, many hours there. I was able to fill nearly every little hole in my HULK run, which was just a hugely great feeling. My hands were shaking nearly the entire time after that-- and naturally I spent all the money I had brought with me.

It was the first time I ever saw superhero t-shirts other than the three or four that were widely available. This really was right before graphic tee's like that exploded into pop culture.

Why was the convention not invited back to this venue? I suspect it's because the "exclusive" Playboy lounge was served by the same elevator, but was the next floor up. I know that other folks (think: kids, geeky comics guys, truly scruffy vendors, etc) made the same mistake that my buddy and I did: coming quickly out of the elevator, loud and excited and chatting, bursting into a cocktail lounge that James Bond would have felt at home in, with REAL LIVE PLAYBOY BUNNY WAITRESSES in those Bunny Uniforms bustling all over the place. That. . . probably become really old to the patrons realllly quick. (I pulled up short so quickly that my buddy ran fully into my back. Before he could even take in anything, I shoved him in the chest so he fell back into the elevator, while I yammered, "No, no! Go, go! Bunnies! They're. . . they've. . . Playboy bunnies. . . wrong floor!!", as I frantically pressed the button. He, of course, was protesting, "Wait! What?? I want to see!! Wait!!"--- but. . . the doors closed. And. . . he didn't actually have the gumption to go back up there under his own willful steam. That incident, of course, is the most enduring specific memory I have of the whole day. I mean, I was fifteen. . .)

HB

RobAnderson said...

Thanks, david_b! Agreed on my step-father. I still bring this up (and my gratitude) on a semi-regular basis to this day. (ha)

Humanbelly, that might be the most awesome con story ever! Seriously hilarious. And I clearly DO remember feeling that anxiety at that con of there being just too much to look at and look through. And that was without any bunnies running around... I don't think I felt that overwhelmed by a con again until 1998, the first time I attended SDCC...and that was before it got completely insane. When I went back ten years later, in 2008 (and a few times thereafter, more for "business"), I was shocked at how it had changed. But even in 1998, there were like 3 panels going on every hour of the day that I desperately wanted to see and choosing between them was killing me (in a good way?)

Not sure even that, though, matched my 10-year-old self's anxiety at Marvel-Con '76. I never dreamed anything like that could exist.

Redartz said...

Terrific post, Rob! Kudos, from one Rob to another (yes, Redartz now stands revealed as Robert...). Glad you stepped up and shared your convention memories. Also thanks for the link to your site- it's very cool to see your childhood comics exuberance still reflected in your work today! And as HB said, score points to your step-dad for enabling. Bringing the whole family was a grand move on his part- sounds like your younger brother must have enjoyed himself too. Did your parents find the show of interest?

HB- you have a wealth of good stories in you! Loved the 'tale' of you and your pal with the Playboy bunnies in Chicago. There's no fun like hitting a convention with a friend and a walletfull of allowance money. Reminds me of my first convention experience; running rampant through Napcon '75 in Indianapolis with my best comics buddy. I too felt those butterflies of excitement as I feverishly rifled through long boxes aplenty, finding treasure after treasure. That first con also taught me a lesson about smart purchasing: one book I'd been longing for was Silver Surfer #1. I found one copy at a dealer's table that weekend, priced at 5 dollars (which, in 1975, was fairly steep). It looked okay, and I'd been hunting for awhile, so I bought it. Later, back in the hotel room, my friend and I started going through our prized buys. Upon opening my Surfer, the cover fell off and I found 2 interior pages missing. Since then, I always open up a back issue and check it out...

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, Rob! I didn't attend (or know about) any cons until adulthood. My first was the 2001 MegaCon in Florida, which I only got to go to due to my girlfriend (now wife) & I visiting friends that weekend. It took place when CrossGen Comics was in full swing, and the CrossGen booth was amazing- George Perez, Mark Waid, Steve Epting, Bart Sears, then- rising stars Jim Cheung & Steve McNiven, several others... And all the artists gave away free sketches on 5"X5" cards! Not to mention Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy, Berni Wrightson, Peter David, Steve Lieber, and many more... I wasn't able to get to the Romitas' booth, unfortunately, but I was spoiled enough anywa:)

I'm going to take my son to the upcoming Rhode Island con (sshh don't tell him). He doesn't care about comics, but 3 actors from Doctor Who will be there and he's been telling me he wants to meet Karen Gillan if she ever comes to a con...

- Mike Loughlin

RobAnderson said...

Redartz - "Wonder Rob" powers activate! ;) I honestly don't think it was my parents' thing, but I think they enjoyed seeing us enjoy it... And on your Silver Surfer #1, been there, suffered that. Despite my inexplicable love of Marvel Value Stamps, I have been bitten by the "missing stamp" discovered post-purchase quite a few times, or even the "whole page with the missing stamp razored out." Ugh. That's part of why I put together the full checklist on my MV Stamps website. ( http://www.mvstamps.com/ ).

Anonymous -- I have heard SUCH good things about MegaCon over the years from other comic creators who tabled there, but I've never made it as a fan or tabling. But -- wow, what a line-up! I really enjoyed so much of that CrossGen line-up when it released, and Marvel sure scooped up a lot of that talent when CrossGen shuttered. Sounds like 2001 was a classic con!

Edo Bosnar said...

Rob, like others here, I first want to thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable post! I love reading about people's experiences from favorite cons, because I've never been to one myself. I find reports from the older cons back in the '70s and '80s, before they turned into these big mass-media mega events, particularly interesting (a few years ago Karen told us some great stories from her attendance of the San Diego (?) con back in the mid-70s).
Second, wow! You're the writer of Creature Cops?! So cool. I've actually heard good things about that series, and it's one of those things I keep thinking I should maybe get around to reading sometime - well, it's definitely moving up on my list now.

And HB, yeah, I got a kick out of your story, too...

Colin Bray said...

Thank you for your post, Rob. Your story and the way you tell it is almost romantic, an important life event. It must has been a magical thing, at that age and especiallh that time to be surrounded by creators and true fans . I'm super-jealous!

I actually didn't hit a Con until 2002 - when I was 32. My only marginally comparible experience was visiting my first comic shop in 1983 on the cusp of my 13th birthday. Such excitement to see long boxes and 60s comics for the first time - I still have the copy of Avengers #26 picked up that day. That was exciting enough, I can't imagine being at an actual, authentic Marvel Con at the age of 10 or 11.

Oh, and I'm very keen to pick up some of your My Little Pony work for my two young daughters, they love those comics. It must have been a blast writing for the MLP franchise.

Thanks for making the '76 Marvel Con come to life.

Humanbelly said...

I'm gonna chime in with edo, there, Rob. I followed a couple of your links and came across CREATURE COPS, and my immediate reaction was, "but. . . this sounds like a book I would totally enjoy! I didn't know those happened anymore!". The covers and the apparent cop-show style setting very easily put me in a TOP 10 mindset (one of my favorite series ever, ever, ever), and even gave me a touch of that anticipatory tingle we were talking about a few posts ago. Now. . . I'll have to track it down. . .

Thanks for the kind words, teammates-- (and as ever, apologies to Rob for the slight hi-jaxation)-- boy, the thing about experiences like that? At the time, you're NEVER taking them in from a "welllll, this'll be an amusing little anecdote someday" perspective. That type of big-picture perspective is usually being drowned out by whatever aspect of the fight-or-flight instinct is right-then shrieking incessantly into the center of your eardrum. Someday I'll be able to relate the time HBSon and I found ourselves frantically running down the tracks in front of an oncoming Boston MTA trolley, carrying a trombone case, trying to reach the station platform before it ran us down. . .

But-- too soon, too soon. . .

HB

Redartz said...

Edo- if you are ever in the Louisville/ Ohio Valley area at Convention time, I will personally take you to one ( Wizard World Louisville, or one of several others nearby; the recent Cincinnati Comic Expo was nice). You have to experience one, my friend...

Martinex1 said...

Rob thanks for sharing your Con experience and for adding another perspective. Like others, I haven't read Creature Cops...yet. It is now high on my list. i like that you pursued writing all those years.

Your memories in New York brought to mind my experience at a con in Chicago at the Congress Hotel around 1979 or 1980. I went with some friends of mine; we were 12 or 13 at the time. Strange how back then we were a little more free to just go places on our own. It was eye opening. I hardly ever saw any kids picking comics off the spinner rack so a gathering of thousands was unexpected. There was that old paper smell in the air. And so many long boxes. It was the first time I ever saw original art and I was unimpressed (doh!). My friend bought an 8 x 11 Dr. Doom sketch by Bob Layton. I passed on a few classic books like Avengers #4 but can remember looking at them like it was yesterday.

I was a bit naive and easily intimidated in those days, and I found the creators at the sessions a bit sarcastic for my tastes. I remember getting called on for a question,and I asked about a recent DC / Marvel crossover and how it fit into continuity. Somebody on the panel just said "Next!" and then went on to the next question. I felt pretty dumb, but hey I was just a kid and was curious how that all worked. I think my friends were disappointed too because they wanted me to ask. But it didn't affect me for long because some artists peddling their art talked to us for a while as we looked through their pages. One comment that an artist made that never came true was that they were revising Iron Fist's costume; I kept watching for it but it never occurred as they described.

Thanks again for sharing. Great stuff.


Redartz said...

Yes, a long way for your travel, Edo, but the offer stands...

Redartz said...

Add another to the rolls of those who will be looking into "Creature Cops". And Martinex1: we may have crossed paths at the convention you discussed. I attended Chicago Con at the Congress (July or August? ) in 79 and 80. Lot of good memories!

RobAnderson said...

Edo Bosnar -- thanks for the kind words, and I agree with the statement downstream -- it would really be worth it for you to make it to a con if it's ever possible at all!

Thanks to you (and everyone, seriously) for interest in my occasional comics work, too. I hope you enjoy it -- that's what it's all about.

Colin -- thanks again for the article on the '76 program. It brought back memories (obviously) and gave me a great excuse to dig through my remaining longboxes. I totally relate to your first comic shop experience. I remember a time my dad (biological, not Step-) and my uncle took me to a flea market where my uncle's friend was selling old comics. Great stuff and older stuff than I'd ever had access to -- I still remember some of the issues I picked up (including Justice League of America #107 & 108, the one with the JSA/Freedom Fighters crossover)-- and they handed me some huge amount of money ($10? $20?) and let me buy them at 10 cents each, less than current comics at the time.

I'm not joking at all when I say about once every year or two I have a vivid dream that I'm back at that flea market. It was my own personal nirvana!

And on the MLP, I should note that the issue on Spike (the baby dragon) was inspired by Sea Monkeys, and the epic gap between what I thought they would be and what they were. (ha) So a bit of a Bronze Age angle is in there, too. (For that matter, the other MLP I wrote has a little of a Scooby Do vibe, and that's no coincidence either.)

Humanbelly - no hi-jaxation felt at all! (And I'm a fellow Top 10 fan, no doubt). Can't wait to hear the trombone case story someday...

Martinex1 -- oh, yes, that's exactly how I felt about that What If question! I'm with you! And, for the record, I absolutely would have wanted to hear the answer to your question back in the day. I know I often wondered about that aforementioned Superman vs. Spider-Man treasury. I don't understand creators who think it's cool to be sarcastic with kids. Some of the best fan interactions I've ever had have been with young fans at cons talking to me about the MLP comics, and bits of continuity with the cartoon or what have you...

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the warm welcome. I apologize for my past and future lurking. I was darn lucky that my blog went up on a day I had off from work for the federal holiday, so that I was able to chat with everyone. Usually, despite my best intentions, I'm lucky to just read over the day before during my morning bus commute. But, know that I'm loving the posts and comments even if I'm quiet. This has been SO great...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Rob! See, it ain't so bad in the spotlight here!

Gosh, you really sound like you had a heck of a time at Marvel-Con 1976! You must have been starstruck when John Romita Sr. signed that comic for ya. Even though I've never been to those giant cons up there in the USA, (living in T & T and all) it's still a wonderful feeling when comic lovers are gathered in one spot. I remember going to a mini comics meeting (it was so small you can't even call it a convention!) some years ago and thinking 'OMG these are my people!'. No, I'm not talking about people of my ethnicity but rather comic book lovers!


- Mike 'need someone to crowdsource me a ticket to NYCC ASAP' from Trinidad & Tobago.

R. Lloyd said...

I remember purchasing the program book back in 1975 through a Marvel Comic. I begged my father to take me there, because he lived in New York. However he refused because he frowned upon comics and felt they were a waste of time. I remember reading that book from cover to cover ten times and I still have a very used copy of it. There were no other comic enthusiasts where I lived so I was unable to be there for the first Marvel Con.

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