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“Meeting an Unlikely Influence… Or, My Dinner With Stan

March 1, 2013

Part 1


Anyone who knows me knows I am a comic nerd. I’ve been that way since probably the 1st grade or so, that’s about my first memory reading/enjoying/trading comic books. I remember my first big acquisition was a run of X-Men comics from my best friend Ben Page in and around 1976, I was nine. The first comic book I have a fond memory of is X-Men #98.


It was only the fifth issue, which featured the more well known cast of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, etc. Little did I know the universe I was about to uncover? Dave Cockrum art, Chris Claremont story… It was just beautiful. This is where the mythos of the “all new, all different” X-men began. Cool looking characters, big giant robots as enemies. I was hooked instantly.


Now, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, way back in 1963, four years before I was born, originally created the X-Men. And it would take me quite a while to catch up with those older issues, and as the years went by I began collecting all the big name Marvel titles. Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, etc… I fell in love with the art instantly (most of it was by Jack Kirby) and of course the stories. Almost all of which (especially in the early days) was written/co-written by Stan. I believe at this point Stan and Jack have the record for the third longest unbroken run on a comic title. Over 100 straight issues (of the Fantastic Four), which was quite a record for back then. An amazing achievement… These stories and art formed me into the creative person I am today… And it took almost 40 years for me to realize that.


I had a dream a long, long time ago about what it would be like to meet Stan Lee himself. Now, Jack “King” Kirby died back in 1994, so there was no chance of that happening, but Mr. Lee is still alive an kicking. And at 90 years of age, is probably now more active than he’s ever been. And when it was announced last year he would make his first ever appearance at the Baltimore Comic Con in 2011, I knew my chance had finally arrived. I had tried to meet him a few times before at various cons, even got kicked out of the NYC Comic Con once waiting in line to do so… But that’s another story for another day. Stan was going to be in my own hometown… The opportunity had finally arrived!


I have been to the San Diego Comic Con a few years back, and anyone who knows anything about this type of thing knows how big it is. I have been going to the Baltimore show now for the past 13 years, and each year it gets bigger and better. More fans are showing up in costumes, and the costumes get cooler and more insane each year as well. I even talked to promoter Marc Nathan about adding on a tattoo contest. He was into it, but it would have to wait as getting things in order for the arrival of Stan “The Man” is a daunting task in itself. I sold Marc on the idea by showing him some of the comic related tattooing I had done, and he was impressed.


I explained to him that all sorts of fans get all sorts of comic related tattoos, not just Marvel stuff. And the hope was to get some of the more famous guest artists in attendance, and maybe even Stan himself, to be one of the judges. Past guest artists have included the likes of Jim Steranko, George Perez, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Brian Bolland, Geof Darrow, Bernie Wrightson, John Cassiday, Neal Adams, Frank Cho, etc… The list goes on and on. It would potentially be a really badass and fun thing to get into.


Then I began showing Marc some of the other Marvel related artwork I had produced, just to prove to him basically two things: 1. I knew what I was doing, and 2: well, just to show off a little.


A few years back I was working on the side for a guy named Peter Mui, who owned a t-shirt company called Yellowman. He started it by out producing an over-all tattoo print kind of thing; he was based in NYC with a retail store in Hollywood. He had recently got a license to do some Marvel Comics related shirts, and as you might have guessed, I was all over it. Me, being able to create and draw “officially licensed” Marvel swag…? Are you kidding me? I was in heaven. Over the course of about two years I drew about 60 different designs for different branches of the company (Samurai Surfer, Harley Davidson, Transformers, etc.) and over 20 of those designs were for the “Marvel Ink” line. He personally told me that my Captain America design was the best selling of the lot. There’s even a picture floating around somewhere with Bono wearing my Spider-Man the musical shirt. But anyway…


It was then that I started to realize that almost everything I drew, from day one, is kinda comic book looking. I never really felt I had a distinctive art or tattoo style per-say, but it finally dawned on me that my style could actually be called “comic book style.” Both in tattooing and for commission work, my stuff looked like it could be straight out of a comic book, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing after all.


So… not wanting to have a repeat of the NYC Comic Con debacle, I purchased my V.I.P. pass, got in line, and brought a few comics to get signed by The Man himself. I was finally going to meet him, after 30 years of dreaming about it, so this was my opportunity and I wasn’t going to blow it. It was finally going to happen… and it did.


The signing portion was super fast, and I didn’t get much of a chance to say anything to him. Surrounded by assistants, the books were passed in front of him quickly to sign, and then you were shuffled out immediately. I mean, I get it, he’s 90 and there’s 10,000 people waiting in line behind me. So I figured I’d get a second chance when he does the photo-op portion. But again, that went by almost during the blink of an eye… and all I got the chance to mutter to him as I was walking away was “thanks.” He replied, “Thank you,” and what I wanted to say was, “No, wait. I meant thank you for all the years of joy and pleasure you’ve brought to me…” but alas, it was not meant to be. Then it dawned on me: I just met probably THE biggest influence on my personal and professional life. I just met the creative genius Stan Lee face-to-face. It was because of his stories, and the people he had surrounded himself with, that created the stuff that made me into the person I am today. And I like who I am today… I do pretty well I think, and it seems to be mostly due to this one man… Stan The Man. You never realize just where things come from until you have a profound experience and have a second to reflect on it. That was my moment. But… it wasn’t over yet…


Part 2

So it was announced that Stan would be returning to Baltimore in 2012, and of course I was again going to attend because it seems that I wasn’t quite done with meeting Stan just yet. And what I had in mind, well, I wasn’t so sure it was going to work, but it never hurts to try.


See, what I hadn’t told Marc (the promoter) last year, was that the real reason I wanted the con to have a tattoo contest was because I was attempting to get some one-on-one time with Stan. This was in hopes of getting him to sign some part of my body to get tattooed. And it almost happened at the 2011 con, but didn’t pan out. But as part of my V.I.P. pass last year, I got to attend a Q&A session with other pass holders featuring Stan, and toward the end of the session he asked if anyone in the crowd had any super hero tattoos. I saw that this as my moment to jump up and ask him to sign me… but right as I was about to come forward his assistant whispered in his ear that his car was ready, and he had to go. He got a standing ovation as he left, and I knew it would have to wait till 2012.


I got my signature coupon and got into line. Everyone else in line had books and comic pages in hand, I had nothing. When I got closer to the booth, I asked one of the security guys if it was okay to get him to sign my skin. He replied, “Um, yeah I guess it’s alright, lemme ask.” He came back and asked me to get at the end of the line, because what I wanted might take a little longer and it would be best to keep it ‘til the end. I agreed. I entered the booth, greeted him and introduced myself. He smiled and said, “So… what did you want me to sign?” I threw my leg up onto his table and said, “Here please.” He didn’t even hesitate. He smiled, grabbed his sharpie, and began drawing on my ankle. And when I say ankle, I mean anklebone. See… I had a tiny open spot above the protruding anklebone itself, and that’s where I had intended him to sign me… real small, real quick, a classic “Stan Lee” signature. But what I got instead was a masterpiece. He began his “S” pretty much on top of my ankle bone, and what I thought was going to be about an inch long signature turned out to be about 2 1/2″ total in length. Another thing I hadn’t noticed is that he is left handed, and really had nowhere to rest his hand. It came out a bit sloppy, my leg began cramping and before I knew it, it was done. I was speechless.


And then the ultimate thing happened. Stan Lee fist bumped me. It’s something I will never ever forget.


So, now that it was on there, the next thing I had to do was get my ass to a tattoo shop and get it inked in there before anything smeared. Luckily, I have a good friend named Eric Brooks who owns Classic Electric Tattoo in Frederick, Maryland near where I live. He was kind enough to hold off on drinking some beers until I arrived, and within 5 minutes of getting there, the tattoo was done. Eric did the entire thing with a shader, and nailed it perfectly 100 percent. What an amazing day… Two years for it to come full circle, 35-plus years in the making. If anyone has ever met someone in their life who turned out to be a huge influence on them, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Words can’t describe it sometimes, but words and pictures definitely help get the point across. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see him again next year and show him the tattoo. He might think I’m nuts, but that’s fine with me. He’ll always have a place in my heart and I only ever wanted to be able to tell him thanks. And I did. And I’ll do it again if I get another chance.


PS: Almost forgot something. Each year the costumes get bigger and better for Baltimore, and some of the dedication these fans show is amazing. And by dedication, I don’t mean just the amount of work put into creating the costume itself, but the stamina it takes to walk around wearing these things all day no matter how big or bulky or ridiculous it might look. Case in point: Lil Galactus. This kid was running around ALL DAY wearing this crazy costume and headpiece. I kept running into him all throughout the day last year. When I went to pick up my picture of Stan and me together, there he was too posing with Stan! And he kept his helmet on! Later on, he was in the crowd for the V.I.P. panel too! Everyone loved him; he got an enthusiastic round of applause from everyone there, including Stan himself. So, I knew my day would not be complete without getting my picture taken with this guy. So I did.


Is he nuts? Absolutely not. I’m sure he’d think I was just as nuts for getting Stan’s name tattooed on me. Who am I to judge? We are BOTH fans of the same thing. We just show it in different ways. Never judge anyone on the basis of what they look like, whether in a silly hat or covered with tattoos. We are all the same on the inside. Stan taught me that.

Thanks again Stan.


From → artwork, tattoos

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