Friday, July 22, 2016

Guest Post: Convention Stories

Doug: A few weeks ago William was relating a story about an encounter he had with Will Eisner. As it seemed like he'd picqued the curiosity of many a BABer, I emailed him and asked if he'd be interested in sharing more. We're really excited today to be able to present "the rest of the story", as they say. Thanks, William!

William: Back in 1993 I had the very good fortune to attend a "Comics and Sequential Arts Workshop" taught by the great Will Eisner. It was an eight week night class that was offered at a local community college in my home town of Davie, Florida (located just west of Fort Lauderdale). The class even got a write up in the local paper. 


My old friend from art school, Tony Diterlizzi, attended the class with me. He went on to become a pretty well known artist in the industry, writing and illustrating many children's books and co-creating "The Spider Wick Chronicles". But I digress.

In each class Will would give a demonstration of a certain art and/or storytelling technique and then give us a homework assignment based on that weeks lesson. Then the next week Will would critique the work of each student and then he'd give us another demo and another assignment and so on. It was a lot of fun, and I thought Will was a really great teacher, and a really nice and guy.

He usually did just rough pencil sketches for his demonstrations (sometimes no more than stick figure drawings), and afterward he'd give the pages to whoever wanted them. Well, one night he did an inking demonstration that included much more detailed drawings of figures and such (all fully inked). After he was done I half-jokingly blurted out "I'd like to have that one." Everyone laughed, and then Will said "Sure, no problem." Then he signed it "Will Eisner, Done By Hand" and gave it to me. I almost fell over, and the rest of my classmates were fairly green with envy (to say the least). The next day I showed the piece to my friend who owned a comic-book store, (and was an avid comic art collector as well). He was pretty blown away and said, "Wow man, you just paid for that class and then some." Because Will Eisner did not sell his original art, so it was very hard to come by.

During this same time there was a comic convention in Fort Lauderdale that featured John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr. as guests that year. So, my friend Tony Diterlizzi, my wife, and myself decided to go check it out. Shortly after we arrived who should walk through the front door but Will Eisner himself. We see him, and he sees us, and he comes over and we all start talking. Well, it isn't long before we are surrounded by other convention goers who recognize Will and stop by to pay their respects. My wife looks at me like "what is going on?" Even though I'd told her that Will Eisner was like the godfather of comic art she did not realize what a legend he was to most comic-book geeks (like myself).

Unfortunately the big crowd around us soon attracted the attention of the convention organizers and they swooped in and, even though he wasn't a scheduled guest, they begged Will to join the other creators up at the tables. He agreed (sort of reluctantly) and before he left us he said "You know, I would have much rather just stayed down here and hung out with you guys all day." (My wife thought that was very sweet and still mentions it to this day).

Later on we got in line to meet the Romitas -- Sr. and Jr.. and I had them sign a couple of comics I'd brought along (including my copies of Amazing Spider-Man #s 39 and 40 for Sr. to sign). John Sr. was also doing free sketches of either a masked Spider-Man head or the half Peter Parker/half Spidey face. I chose the fully masked Spidey. (I think my friend Tony got the other). I remember John Jr. turning to his dad and telling him he was nuts for doing all that work for nothing, and John Sr. was like "Ahh, I don't mind." John Jr. was also flirting with my wife big time. He was saying things like "You don't see many women who look like you at these things." and "What are you doing with these guys?" and so on. And she was eating it up because he's not a bad looking guy at all. It was all in good fun, and instead of being put out I was like "Cool, John Romita Jr.'s hitting on my wife." LOL

I think that probably remains the best (or at least most memorable) comic book convention I ever attended. Although shortly after that I went to another one where I got to meet Stan Lee. But that's a story for another day.


Edo Bosnar said...

Outstanding post, William! Thanks for (again) sharing those memories - the whole story just brings a big smile to my face. Thanks also for sharing scans of the sketches you recieved. Great, great stuff.

Redartz said...

Great stories, William! So glad to hear more details about your experiences with Will Eisner and the Romitas. Man, that class must have been incredible. To have a comics course taught by Eisner would be like a writing class with Hemingway. Eisner was such a master of the medium; to learn the fundamentals from him: wow; just wow.

Also, thanks for sharing the sketches. They are terrific, and would occupy a place of honor on any fan's wall...

Vince and Siv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vince and Siv said...

I recently went to my first Comic convention since 1981 here in London.....boy they're different these days! However I did notice that one of the (few) real comic pros there was Dave I tracked him down to get him to sign my copy of the Watchmen Graphitti Edition....25 YEARS after I got Alan Moore to sign about being patient!

Not sure if this embedding links works in Blooger comments, but here goes:

david_b said...

Not too much time to share today, but my relative-infrequent con trips have been great. Again, I typically go for the smaller venues.., where you can put the celebs on your bar tab (they drink all they want on me) or I buy a few of them lunch from a local deli a block (I did that for a bunch of Galactica and LIS celebs last year in Seattle..), and basically just sit behind the table with them and shoot the breeze on politics, football, you name it (during non-peak times). Talked Gibson guitars with Bill Mumy for a while, and escorted both Marta Kristin and Mark Goddard into the convention hall, helping with their bags.

I've been asked out to dine with them on occasion, but had to ask for a raincheck for whatever reason. Just went to St Louis for their recent 'Con-tamination' con and had a great time with five of the original Galactica cast. My new wife and I'd been driving for 7+hrs just to get down there amidst construction delays and detours, so I had to turn down a trip to a local sushi place for dinner with Richard Hatch and crew. I find it sooo surreal to be able to enjoy relaxed conversation (and thumb-wrestling matches with Richard) with these folks. Have a few pics up on my FB page with Dirk Benedict and Richard.

They may be more 'minor-celebs' that the current big draws at Comic-con's, but they'll always be heroes to me. My nephew enjoys the big con experiences quite a bit, always interesting autographs and exchanges.., but I still prefer my small venues.

Now on with the other stories..

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way William, that's some pretty solid work you did there on those Dragon Slayer pages.

William said...

Thanks Edo (but I think Will's rough sketches look better, LOL)

And thanks redartz and vince and davidb and everyone else for all the nice comments. That was a really good time in my life and it's nice to reflect on it and share some memories with friends of similar interests who can appreciate those days the same as I do.

I'm out running around today so I'm writing this on my phone. I'll comment further when I get back to my computer.

Redartz said...

david_b- very cool story of your encounters with actors and such. I share your fondness for smaller venue cons. It was at one such con, a couple years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Bill Messner-Loebs. Creator of one of my favorite series ("Journey"), he was very generous with his time. We chatted awhile, talked comics. I bought an ink drawing, which he signed, and he personalized my copy of Journey #1. It's gratifying to meet your favorite creators, and be able to thank them for the enjoyment they provided...

Anonymous said...

William, awesome sketches! The Romita sketch is cool, of course, but an original Eisner drawing? Damn! Awesome!

I'm going to the Boston con in 2 weeks. Frank Miller's going to be there but I think he charges more money than I care to part with for a signature. I doubt I'll be able to get one. Marv Wolfman will be there however, which means I can get his signature on my New Teen Titans 1 (already signed by George Perez) and Tomb of Dracula 10 (already signed by Gene Colan). Sam Kieth will be there, too. I'm excited to meet him as The Maxx was a very important comic to me in the '90s.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Cool con story William!

Yeah it must have been a rare treat to have such personalized interaction with one of the true greats of the comicbook artworld. Also, having an original piece of art signed by Will Esiner must have felt like Michelangelo signing a painting for an art student, or having the Beatles sign an album for a music student.

The Romitas seem like a nice bunch, although I don't know how I would feel if John Jr kept hitting on my wife! Great of John Sr to pass out free sketches like that, though; a true gentleman by all accounts, which sadly cannot be said for some other industry heavyweights.

- Mike 'trying to get a Thor costume for Trinidad con' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

William that is a really great story. Thanks for sharing the details and the artwork.

I'm a little embarrassed to say that while I appreciate Eisner's talent and influence I am not that well versed on his actual work. I've read some of the Spirit some time ago. Can you ( or does anybody) recommend where I can dive in to a trade or great story to start?

Redartz said...

Martinex1- there are numerous collections of the Spirit available on Amazon. "Best of the Spirit" looks like a good place to start, although I personally haven't seen it. I first encountered Eisner's work in the Warren Spirit magazines, which had the benefit of being a bit larger format than a regular comic. Also, you might check out "A Contract With God", Eisner's seminal graphic novel. Very powerful...

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, I have the Best of the Spirit, and like Redartz said, it's a good place to start. There's also a companion volume called Femmes Fatales, although there's some overlap with the stories in the Best of book. However, I think you can find really cheap copies of both online (like a few dollars each) if you're willing to buy them used.
Since Redartz mentioned Warren's Spirit Magazine, I have to say that I still think those are the best reprints of the Spirit stories anywhere - I had the privilege of having the whole set loaned to me at one point, and was spellbound. Seriously, if you find a reasonably priced copy of any issue (like on eBay or somewhere) just get it - it doesn't matter which one. They all have great stories in them and the reprint quality is really outstanding. Most of them also had some nice extras, often little articles or humorous interviews with the characters written by Eisner.

As for Eisner's other work, you can't go wrong with any of his graphic novels, but again, I can warmly second Redartz's recommendation of A Contract with God. However, it's really worth it to read the entire trilogy, i.e., the follow-up stories A Life Force and Dropsie Avenue.

William said...

Mike: John Jr. flirting with the wife was all in good fun. I was right there and we were all joking around about it. Not to brag, but my wife is pretty hot, and I was like "Yeah, I don't know what she's doing with me either dude." LOL

Another story I have about my wife and comic book guys concerns a friend of mine named Sam, who I used to hang out with at my other friend George's comic book store (the guy I mentioned in my story), who BTW works for Marvel Comics now. Anyway a bunch of us were going to Mega-Con in Orlando one year, and all the guys stopped by my house early in the morning to pick me up. My wife came out to say goodbye and I heard Sam say to another friend of mine "My god! How do these guys get these women?" It was pretty funny to me.

I'm not really insecure, so it doesn't bother me if guys think my wife is hot. We've been married 25 years now, and she still gets hit on, but I'm pretty sure she's not going anywhere at this point. :D

Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the suggestions gents.

William - you are full of good stories.

Dr. O said...

This is a great story!

I have a bunch of signed Tony Diterlizi art from his D&D and Magic work. He seemed like a very nice guy.

I also have Romita jr's sig on a collection of more recent Spider-Man stuff. Surprisingly, Romita Sr. was there too, but I hadn't brought anything of his to sign and felt weird asking him to sign something he hadn't worked on.

William said...

Thanks again for all the great comments guys. Writing this piece was a lot of fun. (Maybe Doug will let me do it again sometime).

And Dr. O, yes Tony D. is a very nice guy. He used to carpool with my future wife down from West Palm to the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale. We were all pretty close back then (25 years ago). He even came to our wedding. He went on to fame and fortune and moved out of state, so we don't see each other much these days. But I keep up with him on FB and such.

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