Although I love getting them, I’m not really sure why autographs are such a big deal. Oh, I understand the economic concept that autographed comics are more valuable and can be sold at a premium. But why do we seek out authors or artists to sign printed copies of their works? Is it for the brief creator interaction? Is it a type of memento or a badge? Is it a way to make a particular copy of a thing a little more special?
I seem to recall a story from 80s about that old country star Kenny Rogers. He never signed autographs. Instead, Rogers would pause to engage in an authentic conversation with a fan. Sounds like a good idea, right? In today’s world, of “if there’s no selfie it didn’t happen”, I’m not sure that would cut it. Autographs provide that proof, more or less.
There is a downside to autographs. At the recent East Coast Comic Con (I was there with the team from Pop Culture Squad) long lines of autograph seekers ensnarled the exhibition floor. Autograph seeks who didn’t arrive early enough were told they’d lost their opportunity, as the most popular artists had to set a cut-off point. One guy had a child’s wagon filled with toy Infinity Gauntlets for legendary artist George Perez to sign. (At least, I think they were toys. You don’t think one those was the real Infinity Gauntlet, do you?). He was clearly going to use the autographs to increase the resale value of the toys.
At that particular convention, even my autograph experiences varied. I got two wonderful books: Storms at Sea by Mark Schultz and The Ghost, The Owl by Franco. I enjoyed a couple of bubbly conversations with each creator as they autographed their respective book. On the other hand, I’ve long been a fan of Rudy Nebres. I bought his sketchbook and he briskly signed it, but there was no opportunity for pleasant conversation. Hey, it happens.
V is For Victory
This past weekend I attended Victory Con, a small comic con in Victor, NY (a suburb of Rochester). Teddy Hanes, a fixture of the upstate comic con scene, was in charge. He organizes a bunch of bigger shows every year, so this small one was a nice change.
At Victory Con I rescued a few treasures from the bargain boxes. One treasured comic was DC’s Metal Men #45. At first glance, comic looks pretty ordinary. It sports a Dick Giordano cover showcasing those ‘never-quite-made-it-big’ heroes, the Metal Men, battling a big monster.
(Upon closer inspection, however, I can’t help but wonder if that cover is an homage to Fantastic Four #1? The layout is very similar. What do you think?)
But this 1976 issue was a reboot for the series, which had been dormant for a time. A hot young artist was assigned, fresh from his groundbreaking work on Detective Comics’ Manhunter. You know him, it was Walter Simonson. The interior pages are gorgeous, just you’d expect. But on this copy, right there on the first page, is one of the most famous autographs in comics. It’s Walter Simonson’s signature, in that uniquely glorious dinosaur shape. (Archeology was the road not traveled for this gifted creator).
I asked the dealer if he wanted to charge me more for the comic upon the realization that it was autographed, but he shrugged and said, “Nah, a deal’s a deal.”
Somehow, that comic was all the more special with the Simonson signature.
One More Bite Out of the Apple
Last week I wrote about the incredible Use Book Sale that Ithaca hosts twice a year. One of the treasures I brought there was a copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. I just started I digging into it and found quite a surprise.
This book contains many different stories reprinted from the Golden Age of Comics. On the splash page of the Flash’s first adventure is an autograph by Flash co-creator Harry Lampert! As you can see, it reads “To my dear friends, Jim & Benita Harry Lampert July 7, 1996.” Jim Whiting, the book’s original owner, was an illustrator and cartoonist who traveled in the same circles as many of that first generation of comic artists.
Jim Whiting, bless his heart, also tucked away an old interview with Harry Lampert in this section of the book from the December 1995 issue of the old Comic Source. It was entitled, ‘When Lightning Strikes – An Interview with Harry Lampert”. You can see that Lampert is gracious and humble. A brief excerpt:
“The creation of the Flash was not really a big deal — I think it was Gardner Fox’s idea. After I was given the assignment to draw the character, Gardner and I put our heads together. If I correctly recall, (it WAS a few years ago) we based the Flash on Mercury, the god of speed and the messenger of the gods. We developed the costume, and I drew it.”
Lampert also worked on two other features for the company that would later become DC: Red, White and Blue and The King. I never was a big Lampert fan (his work seemed a bit stiff and unnuanced to me), but I admit… I am a fan of Harry Lampert now.
The power of an autograph!