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.
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.
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.
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?